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Football hero shares experience with mental illness

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Herschel Walker speeches at Fort Knox aim to battle stigma

By Gina Clear

When football legend Herschel Walker walked onto a stage Thursday at Fort Knox, his sheer presence garnered the attention of the audience.

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What kept their attention was Walker’s humor and charisma as he shared football stories and anecdotes about movies, his faith and his personal struggles, including battling a multiple personality disorder.

After his football career ended, Walker – the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, pro football star and Olympian – recounted a time when an associate repeatedly missed appointments.

He finally received a call from a service station 20 miles from his house where the man was hoping to meet Walker. Walker told the service attendant to keep the man there. He left home with his gun.

“I wanted to kill him,” Walker told the crowd.

Only when he saw a religious-themed bumper sticker on the man’s vehicle did he know he could not go through with it.

Walker, who was valedictorian of his high school class after being picked on in grade school, went home to tell his then-wife he had a problem and she admitted being fearful of him.

He said he kept a journal where he repeatedly wrote about death and killing people, had a stay in a psychiatric hospital and frequently played Russian roulette.

“I didn’t realize how lost I was,” he told the crowd in two appearances Thursday at Waybur Theater on post.

Walker said the important part of his message is he asked for help and began to value himself again.

“There ain’t no shame in my game,” he said. “I’m Herschel Walker. I’m not perfect, but I love myself.”

Walker has visited 82 military installations in the U.S. and abroad to share his message of battling the disorder and to encourage others to seek help when needed.

“Don’t put anything off,” he said. “If I put anything off, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

Following his afternoon presentation, Walker said he continues to spread his message to the military because of his admiration for what the men and women do.

“We all struggle,” he said. “We all have these stresses in life. We all have these problems. With the military, like an athlete, you’re so macho that you don’t want to admit you have a problem.”

Walker also visited the Warrior Transition Battalion while at Fort Knox.

“I told them you got to continue to have that winning attitude that you took into what you do,” he said. “It gets tough sometimes. You get down on yourself and you lose that winning attitude. You have to keep that. That’s how you’re going to get better. Don’t ever give up on that. I also wanted to thank them for sacrificing so much.”

After the program, Walker signed autographs and take pictures with those in attendance, many of whom were fans while he played at the University of Georgia or in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.

Willie Cody with the Tass Training Command, 94th Division, said he was encouraged by what Walker had to say.

“It hits home,” he said. “We go through things every day. It was good to hear it from someone at his level.”

Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1746 or gclear@thenewsenterprise.com.