Running seems simple, doesn’t it? The activity comes as naturally as breathing for some. You put one foot in front of the other, push your arms back and forth, and before you know it, you’re off.
But then you’re a mile or two in, and you’re feeling woozy. You wish you had a more ingrained sense of how to manage.
Elisabeth Bergh has that quality. At least, that’s what Chris Solinsky, her cross country coach at UF, believes.
“She has very good race instincts,” he said. “Whenever she steps to the starting line I know that she will make good decisions and run her heart out for the University of Florida, her team and herself.”
What exactly makes for good “race instincts?” Whether it’s Bergh’s strength, courage or determination is up for debate.
These are just a few of the qualities she has utilized in recent years to remain successful, whether that be on the track, on the course or in the classroom.
Growing up in Haugesund, Norway, the redshirt junior’s first sport wasn’t cross country, and it wasn’t track and field either. She’d played soccer for 10 years leading up to a decision she had to make in her mid-teens.
“It was tough to leave the game behind to focus on running… but after realizing I was a better runner, I knew I had made the right decision.”
And did she ever.
Bergh excelled as a track athlete in high school, competing in some of the more prestigious running events in Norway. In 2014, Bergh finished 12th in the 1,500-meter run at the World Junior Championships. She also claimed personal bests at both the 2014 IAAF Diamond League Lausanne U20 and the 2014 Tallinn European Team Championships.
Bergh kept busy once she began running, competing in cross country in the fall, while focusing on track and field during the spring and summer. The grind of the running season created opportunities for Bergh she admittedly didn’t picture herself having when she started.
Bergh’s talents presented her with the chance to compete collegiately while getting a quality education. Still, she had second thoughts about packing up and moving across the pond.
“I was a little skeptical because of how far away from home it was,” she said. “But I realized it was a unique opportunity to come to America.”
The more Bergh thought about it, the more she understood the benefits she’d receive by making the jump from Norway to the United States.
“They put a lot more into sports (in America) than in Norway,” Bergh said. “There’s fantastic staff, way better facilities. They just put way more money into everything.”
Bergh’s move was made easier thanks to the companionship of her boyfriend, Magnus Pettersen. The Drammen, Norway, native had aspirations of moving to the United States back when he was a high schooler in his native country.
When it came to making the right decision on which school to attend, the couple had plenty of options. Bergh said she talked to a lot of schools, but only one made the biggest impression.
“We looked into coming here, and we thought Florida was a good academic school and had a very good track team,” she said. “We loved all the coaches we talked to, so we were pretty sure UF was the right place for us.”
Bergh jokingly brought up the climate in this part of the country being a bit nicer than at home.
“It felt like the dream coming from Norway to this warm weather,” she laughed.
Not everything felt like a tropical paradise to Bergh when she transitioned from Norway to America. Among many other things, the language barrier was a major issue for her.
“It was definitely a challenge in the beginning,” she admitted. “I wasn’t very good at English at all.”
Pettersen mentioned that the couple’s drive to Gainesville from the airport in Orlando was an uneasy one.
“During the two-hour ride back, I don’t think Elisabeth said more than a complete sentence,” Pettersen said. “After a while though, she learned not to care about speaking perfectly, but rather focusing on getting understood.”
The next challenge that dared Bergh’s peace of mind was academics. According to Pettersen, Bergh’s freshman year was filled with plenty of tribulation.
"Elisabeth was thrown into classes with other Americans, and the professor required nothing less from her than anybody else," he said. "I respect Elisabeth for coming to a different country with such a significant language barrier. It amazes me when I look back at our first year at UF and compare it to how well she has progressed now."
Looking back on her first year at the University of Florida, Bergh was relieved to have a strong support system.
"It helped a lot having my boyfriend here, on top of everyone around me," she said. "My teammates, my coaches, my trainers. If I had any questions, they would kind of help me out."
Bergh may have had her challenges academically her first year in college, but athletically, she shined. Bergh earned a spot on the All-SEC Freshman team for cross country and finished 21st at the 2015 SEC Championships. In her Gators debut, she took home a top-10 finish, placing ninth in the Covered Bridge Open.
Her freshman campaign continued on an upward trend going into the spring and summer track seasons. Bergh found spots on both the All-SEC Freshman Outdoor and Indoor teams after finishing first among freshmen at both SEC Championships.
That's when Bergh was faced with some more adversity.
In the middle of the 2016 cross country season, Bergh could tell something wasn't quite right. Her hip began to give her trouble, but she powered through the rest of the season and went on to compete in the track season as well.
But the pain lingered.
"It ended up taking a little while to figure out what was wrong," Bergh said. "I ended up having surgery in May of 2017, so I'd say it ended up being a pretty serious injury."
Pretty serious was a bit of an understatement.
The injury was a hip labral tear along with a cam lesion. The labrum (cartilage) of the hip cushions the ball joint, helping secure the hip joint in place. A tear in that area compromises the security of that joint, leading to pain in that area of the hip. A cam lesion is usually an already existing issue that can lead to things like labral tears.
In Bergh's case, this injury wasn't specifically sports-related. It was something that was going to happen with time.
"It was a condition in which I was going to need the surgery eventually anyway. I was happy that it happened earlier in my life so I could have the procedure and get it over with."
On deck for Bergh was a six-month recovery process that consisted mostly of strength-building exercises and absolutely no running. It was different from what Bergh was used too, but she did her best to use the adversity as motivation going forward.
"I had been training every day for years leading up to the surgery," Bergh said. "It was nice to have some time off to focus on school and focus on myself a little bit."
A positive attitude allowed Bergh to power through the rehab process.
"It always sucks to get injured," Bergh admitted. "I tried to look at it positively and not freak out because I knew it was going to be a lengthy rehab process, so I made sure to enjoy my time off and focus on things not related to running."
Bergh quickly bounced back from her injury, competing for the track and field team in the early part of 2018. She became a Second-Team All-SEC runner after a bronze-medal finish in the 1,500-meter run at the SEC Outdoor Championships, the first UF runner to medal since 2014.
She had an impressive 2018 cross country season as well, finishing in the top 10 in all but one meet (NCAA Championships).
"It has been a process to get back into running," Bergh said. "Now that I don't have any issues with my hip anymore, it has been fun to be healthy again."
Bergh's unwavering competitiveness to be even better than she was before the surgery didn't go unnoticed, especially by Solinsky. Her ability to remain humble and persevere through trying times allowed Bergh to see the type of success she has this year.
"Elisabeth is a competitor," Solinsky said. “The sky is the limit for what she will accomplish in her career."
Evan Lepak is a sports writer. Follow him on Twitter @evanmlepak and contact him at [email protected]