IllnessAt JB Charleston, Football Legend Herschel Walker Discusses Mental Health

At JB Charleston, Football Legend Herschel Walker Discusses Mental Health

Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs, Senior Airman Tom Brading

Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina – Heisman Trophy winner and retired NFL running back Herschel Walker visited Joint Base Charleston on August 6, 2014, for a full day of tours and speeches.

The College Football Hall of Famer spoke with Airmen and Sailors about his experiences with dealing with mental illness. Walker has long struggled with dissociative identity disorder, but he has turned his adversity into a strength by telling others about his experience so they can seek assistance.

March 1962 saw the birth of Walker in Wrightsville, Georgia. One of seven children, he was raised in a Christian home. The two-time pro bowler found it challenging to integrate with his contemporaries, in contrast to his siblings.

Walker admitted, “I didn’t enjoy who I was or myself.” Kids would tease me because of my stuttering or because I was overweight because of how I spoke.

Walker’s newfound social and spiritual strength caused everything in his life to shift. His mother had a big impact on his early growth. “Do whatever you’re going to do, do it properly,” she would advise.

He did. By challenging himself to improve both his intellectual and athletic performance, he resisted the challenges of puberty. He received a scholarship at the University of Georgia and graduated as the class valedictorian.

The rest is history from that point on. Along the way, he won the Heisman Trophy while leading the Georgia Bulldogs to a national championship and a three-year record of 32 victories and only two losses. At the University of Georgia, his jersey has subsequently been retired.

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He later had a successful professional career and devoted several seasons to playing professional football. With 18,168 total yards, he is currently seventh in NFL history, and if the three seasons he spent in the United States Football League were counted, he would have surpassed Jerry Rice as the greatest player ever.

In spite of this, something was off amid all the success.

herschel walker mental illness

Everyone kept telling me I was accomplishing wonderful things, but I just couldn’t see it, Walker said. His imposing presence and a long list of achievements are now a motivating factor in the fight against the stigmas frequently connected with getting treatment for mental illness.

Maj. Sonia Pons, commander of the 628th Medical Group Mental Health flight and director of psychological health at JB Charleston, described Hershel Walker as “a remarkable individual who achieved accomplishment despite his external and internal hurdles.”

“His goal is to educate people about the negative effects that unresolved stressors and problems can have on mental health. The strongest defense against mental illness or disastrous outcomes is to take action as soon as possible.”

Walker had the opportunity to experience the mission at JB Charleston by seeing the Air Base and Weapons Station in addition to telling his narrative to service members, enabling him to grasp the breadth of the Team Charleston mission.

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Walker has volunteered for many humanitarian organizations, and in 1981, he made history by being the first honor student from the Academy of Achievement to receive the Golden Plate Award and return to the yearly event.

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He was named the second-greatest player in college football history and admitted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002. (just behind the legendary Red Grange.)

Walker gained prominence as a mixed martial artist in 2010–2011, when he joined STRIKEFORCE and made his MMA debut, compiling a 2-0 record. Walker also had a successful football career.

Walker continues to serve as a spokesperson for initiatives that focus on providing addiction and mental health care for service personnel.

Additionally, he has traveled to more than 80 military installations where, on behalf of the Patriot Support Programs of Universal Health Services, he has spoken to more than 37,000 soldiers and shared his message of hope.


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