NEWS | Aug. 12, 2014

Football legend Herschel Walker tackles mental health at JB Charleston

By Senior Airman Tom Brading Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Herschel Walker, Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL running back, arrived at Joint Base Charleston, Aug. 6, 2014, as part of a full day visit of tours and speaking engagements.

The College Football Hall of Famer shared his struggles of tackling mental illness with Airmen and Sailors. Walker has battled dissociative identity disorder for years, but turned his struggle into strength by sharing his story to help others get help.

Walker was born in Wrightsville, Ga., in March, 1962. He grew up in a Christian family, and was one of seven children. Unlike his siblings, it was difficult for the two-time pro bowler to fit in with his peers.

"I didn't love myself or who I was," said Walker. "I had a stuttering problem; kids would pick on me because of the way I talked or because of my weight."

Things changed in Walker's life through the strength he found spiritually and socially. His mother was influential in his early development. She would say, "If you're going to do anything, do it well."

He did. He fought back against the struggles of adolescence by pushing himself to be better, both academically and athletically. He was valedictorian of his high school class and earned a scholarship to the University of Georgia. From there, the rest is history. He led the Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship and a three-year record of 32 wins and only two loses, winning the Heisman Trophy along the way. His jersey has since been retired at the University of Georgia.

He went on to have a celebrated professional career, dedicating many s easons to professional football. He is still ninth in NFL history with 18,168 all-purpose yards, and if his three seasons in the United States Football League were taken into consideration, he would surpass Jerry Rice as the best of all time.

However, in the whirlwind of accomplishments ... something was wrong.

"Everyone was telling me I was doing great things, but, I couldn't see it," said Walker. His larger than life presence and list of accomplishments has now become a driving force against the stigmas often associated with seeking help for mental illness.

"Hershel Walker is an extraordinary individual who achieved success despite his external and internal challenges," said Maj. Sonia Pons, 628th Medical Group Mental Health flight commander and JB Charleston Director of Psychological Health. "His intent is to disseminate how unaddressed stressors and issues can impair your mental health. Acting sooner than later is the best prevention to mental illness or catastrophic outcomes."

In addition to sharing his story with service members, Walker was able to experience the mission at JB Charleston by touring the Air Base and Weapons Station to see first-hand how diverse the Team Charleston mission is.

Walker has worked with numerous charitable organizations and in 1981, he became the first Academy of Achievement honor student to return to the annual program as a recipient of the Golden Plate Award. In 2002, he was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and selected as the second greatest player in college football history (just behind the legendary Red Grange.)

In addition to a celebrated football career, Walker found notoriety as a mixed martial artist in 2010-2011, when he joined STRIKEFORCE and made his MMA debut, compiling a 2-0 record.

Now, Walker remains a spokesperson for programs specializing in mental health and addiction treatment for service members. And he has visited more than 80 military installations, sharing his story of hope to more than 37,000 troops on behalf of the Patriot Support Programs of Universal Health Services.