Axel Berglund was originally scheduled to spend this year in Florida, but complications with his travel visa caused a delay.
Berglund is from Finland and was trying to study abroad in the United States this school year. The original plan was to attend school in Florida and live with a host family.
“I didn’t have an interview in Finland,” Berglund said, “so I had to go to Estonia to get it. Because of that, I was late for school in Florida and they didn’t take me because I wasn’t there for the first day of school.
American Field Service, which facilitates study abroad opportunities, looked elsewhere for Berglund, contacting Julie and Jim Hagstrom of Oregon, who had hosted international students in the past. They stepped in and offered to be her foster family.
“It was the end of September, most of the exchange students had already been in the United States for a whole month,” said Julie Hagstrom. “It saddened me a little that a student, through no fault of his own, had his year cancelled. Because we have a house with four bedrooms and no one but us, we chose to do this.
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A few days later — after the Hagstroms passed background checks — Berglund was off to Wisconsin.
One of the reasons the Hagstroms chose to host Berglund was because they noticed in his biography that, like them, his interests were sports-oriented. The couple are independent school bus contractors who ferry many Oregon teams to events and know most coaches.
“I had just taken on a cross country team, and I asked coach (Erik) Haakenson, ‘Would you let this kid join your team with only two meets left?'” Julie said. I think because we have a great relationship with these (coaches) due to our side business, they were very interested in helping us.
This provided Berglund with a way to indulge himself with his new surroundings and new classmates. But what would he do in the winter after a short cross-country season?
Joining cross-country solved that problem for him. Berglund said some of his running teammates asked him to join the swim team in the winter.
In Finland, Berglund played handball and had never swum competitively before.
“When we were in the weight room or doing anything on earth, he was up there with the best guys on the team,” said boys’ swim coach Justin Sawran. “But swimming definitely requires specific practice in the water and a feel for the water, so it had a learning curve once we got in the pool.”
Berglund was not alone. Several of his teammates were also new to the sport, Sawran said.
“It makes it a bit easier that he has a group of people to learn from because they can practice and learn together and practices can be changed for a group of people rather than doing one-off things with one person. ,” Sawran mentioned.
Sawran added that Berglund’s previous sporting experience, albeit in a sport like handball, really helped him catch on quickly.
“I love this quote from this pro development I did over the summer,” Sawran said, “it was, ‘a good swimmer doesn’t necessarily make a good athlete, but a good athlete would make a good swimmer. “”
Berglund has swum in varsity and junior varsity events throughout the season, competing in the 50-yard freestyle in Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 Verona section. He finished 28th. He also competed in a more complex race, the butterfly, as part of a JV medley relay race in one of the final meets of the season.
“If I had stayed here longer I probably would have swum in the winter seasons and really tried to improve my butterfly because I really enjoyed it and saw the potential in my swimming butterfly.”
But Berglund does not expect to swim competitively again when he returns to Finland after the school year.
“I really see how much people really appreciate it, and I really enjoyed it,” Berglund said.
“In Finland, it’s harder to start a new sport, especially when you’re older. Here it is much easier to try different sports.
Another difference noted by Berglund: how much more “social and supportive” Americans are than Finns, who are more “quiet and reserved”.
He made friends with his teammates and thanks them for driving him because he doesn’t have a license.
He said he enjoyed all the experiences they shared. Many of these experiences come at practices and meetings, but he also attended a Packers game at Lambeau Field and ate the most McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-A he “ever had in his life.” .
“The only feedback I always get is everyone’s support and welcome,” Sawran said. “These guys who maybe didn’t have a place in the high school social structure can find a place on the swim team. So the group of guys on the team is all of them, it’s not necessarily a culture that I created.
“I think we have to give a ton of credit to the coaches who worked with (Berglund),” Jim Hagstrom said. “They were really accommodating to take on a kid who really had no competitive swimming skills. They were very friendly and the administration was very supportive. Without the support of a large number of people, it would be difficult to make this work as well as it does.
Photos: Action from Saturday’s WIAA Division 2 Baraboo Boys Swim Section