SALT LAKE CITY — Utah State forward Danny Berger ran a mile the other day then did some stairs afterward. Not unusual for an athlete, except that he did it just six weeks after he nearly died after collapsing on the basketball court.
Now, unless Berger takes his shirt off to reveal where a defibrillator has been implanted in his chest, it's hard to differentiate him from most other 22-year-old college athletes.
"I feel good," Berger said after watching his Utah State teammates practice late Tuesday during a 13-game winning streak. "The doctor said everything looks great. I look normal."
While previously hopeful he would play again this season, he is resigned that won't happen. But he looks forward to an extra year of eligibility. This was to be his junior season; now he'll have two seasons left.
"I just try to think about the long run," said Berger, who was revived after going into cardiac arrest on Dec. 4. "I have another year. I'll be more mature, be stronger and a better teammate and more of a leader. I focus on that, and look at the fact I am extremely fortunate."
That's not to say it is easy just watching.
He can shoot, ride the stationary bike and run, but he isn't cleared to practice or play.
While his team heads to New Mexico State for Thursday's game that kicks off a short road trip, Berger will be back in Logan, catching up on school work.
"It feels like it's longer (than six weeks), to be honest," Berger said. "It's hard to sit there and watch, but I'm happy for them."
With a 14-1 record, Utah State is one of a dozen Division 1 teams with only one loss, though the Aggies don't get much attention playing a Western Athletic Conference schedule.
Berger sees a team that is a bit more unified — perhaps since players witnessed his life-threatening incident.
He recently took time to write a heartfelt blog entry, published by the Aggies, in which he updated schoolmates about his health, thanked all those who helped save him or even thought about him, and reiterated how grateful he is to be alive.
"I'm trying to get better one day at a time psychologically, and remember the things I've learned over last the last six weeks," Berger said Tuesday.
He cited his relationship with others.
"How I treat people and how I conduct myself is what really matters. A lot of things just don't matter that we get caught up in," he said.
Berger still doesn't remember much of what occurred on the court that December afternoon.
He was working on his defense in preparation for an upcoming game against instate rival Brigham Young but suddenly felt dizzy as if he had stood up too fast.
Fast action by longtime assistant trainer Mike Williams, among others, was credited with saving Berger's life.
Four days later, he was out of the hospital and being reunited with his teammates in front of a packed crowd.
The Aggies won that night, their fourth win in a row. Since then they've won nine more — the 13-game winning streak the sixth longest in school history and second longest in the country behind Kansas (14 straight).
Through everything, the small defibrillator implanted in Berger's chest hasn't kicked in once — a good sign.
In a few weeks doctors will be monitoring him when he gets his heart rate up as high as he can.
That will let them set his defibrillator a little higher so it doesn't go off when he is just working out —thus enabling him to work out even harder.
He's also hoping some additional blood work and research will shed more light on his collapse.
"Hopefully, we find something out. We may not find out why it happened," he said. "It's obviously pretty scary because they don't know what caused it. But I decided I can't live my life like that. I've got to look past it, just live . try to be normal."1 comment on this story
In that respect, he's glad the attention has quieted but he doesn't mind talking if it is important to others.
"I said it before," Berger said. "I know it happened for a reason. I'm here for some purpose and need to figure out those things. I have the rest of my life to do that."
As for that mile, he ran it in 6 minutes, 55 seconds.
"It was a little slower than normal, but better than I was expecting," he said.