Ret. Air Force Capt. David Berling, 37, once again donned the stars and stripes, but this time as an official member of the U.S. National Paracycling Team in South Africa at the Paracycling Road World Championships.
The Avondale resident said his selection came as a shock.
“Even after I finished, I didn’t think I had ridden fast enough to qualify,” Berling said. “I rode well at the qualifying time trial in Keenesburg, Colorado, but I was about a minute slower than I know I can ride.”
Before participating in the qualifying time trial in Colorado, Berling competed in three world cups and a national championship. He decided after that to race in the qualifying time trial.
“You don’t get to race often with the members of Team USA, and this was an opportunity to see where I ranked among all the members who attended the event,” he said.
Berling will next compete in Tour de Scottsdale on October 8 as an independent.
The U.S. National Team will make selections for the first six months of 2018 in December or January. If selected again, Berling will travel to Belgium to compete in May.
Competitions are nothing new to Berling, who grew up playing soccer and tennis at Wisconsin’s Holmen High School, from which he graduated in 1998. He went on to double major in finance and economics, graduating from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in just three and a half years.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in December 2002, after completing a one-year ROTC program at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Berling began his military career as a member of the 56 Contracting Squadron at Luke Air Force Base. While on active duty, Berling completed his MBA from Webster University. He and his wife, Melissa, eloped to Hawaii before leaving for Euro-Nato Joint Jet Pilot Training.
His life changed, however, after he earned a private pilot’s license so he could apply for military pilot training. On April 29, 2007, his plane crashed into a vacant dirt field after he hit a power line. His injuries required 28 surgeries, including two above-knee amputations. He also sustained severe injuries to his right arm, including three broken bones and nerve damage.
Berling spent two months in the hospital before medically retiring from the military.
After the incident, he worked for nearly six years as a full-time civil contracting consultant at Luke Air Force Base. He chronicled his journey in his book Just Living the Dream: No Way Out but Through.
Berling, who works as a motivational speaker, took up paracycling as part of his recovery, but after learning he had a talent for it, Berling pursued it full time.
“I don’t honestly know how good I can get in this sport,” Berling said.
Recent injuries have been a minor roadblock in Berling’s ascension in the sport. Last year he had a surgery to repair a small intestine obstruction. Earlier this year he was hit by a car in Avondale, which caused eight broken ribs, a punctured lung and a collapsed lung. The arm injuries from the plane crash have been difficult.
“This injury may make it physiologically impossible for me to be the best in the world, but as of right now, I will continue to move forward and improve and see how fast I can get,” Berling said. “I refuse to use it as a crutch and let it stop me from trying to achieve my goals.”
Despite these setbacks, Berling’s world ranking in H5 Classification skyrocketed from No. 19 last year to No. 8 this year.
“I would like to get through an entire season healthy, just to see how close I can come to achieving some of my goals,” he said. “I am working hard to continue to improve that number and work my way up the world ranking.”
His goals include winning a medal at a world cup event, and to be a favorite in world cup and world championship events.
“Eventually, I’d like to be the best H5 cyclist in the world and win a gold Paralympic medal,” he said. “If you’re going to aim, aim high.”
Paralympic athletes are not supported the same way in the United States as they are in other countries. The U.S. Olympic Committee is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization. It does not receive public funding.
“Because most Americans value sports like football, baseball, basketball and hockey, instead of soccer, cycling and tennis like the majority of the world, the monetary and equipment support available to American athletes in those sports is far less than their European counterparts,” he said.
Despite this, Berling said being a part of Team USA is amazing.
“Putting on that uniform and racing for my country is a rush that is unequaled,” he said.
For more information, visit theberlingdream.com.