Herschel Walker: There is no shame in getting help

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Samantha Krolikowski
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Airmen line up one-by-one with wide grins across their faces as they wait anxiously to meet the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner, Herschel Walker, at Fairchild Air Force Base, July 18.

Walker came to Fairchild to share his own personal testimony about mental health and the importance of getting help. While here, he visited Airmen to learn about the mission while sharing words of encouragement to seek help to handle life and mental health challenges.

As a child, Walker was bullied for being overweight and having a speech impediment. After several years of walking with his head down, filled with fear and anxiety, Walker began to work out. He started doing 5,000 push-ups and sit-ups every day.

“I was doing chin-ups on a branch of a tree in my backyard,” Walker said. “I started going to the library to get books and I’d sit in front of the mirror reading to myself. My speech started getting better. When I started ninth grade I sat in the front row instead of the back of the room like I normally did. I started raising my hand and answering questions. Kids were amazed that I could speak. All of a sudden, the kid teachers believed couldn’t learn was graduating as valedictorian of his class.”

After graduating from high school and playing football for three years, Walker didn’t receive scholarships just to go play football; he received academic scholarships.

Walker played college football for two years before deciding to drop out of school to pursue a career in the military. While running a play during his last spring practice, he broke his finger ending any plan to join the military.

Walker continued playing football after his injury healed, graduated from college and went on to play in the National Football League for teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants.

During his NFL career, Herschel was known as a cleaner, or the person who could solve any problem. He was also the one who would show up and support his teammates no matter the time or place.

But, there was another part to Herschel; not just the person who solves problems, but someone whose temper could go from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds. He realized it was a problem when he began experiencing memory loss, outbursts of anger and he began hearing voices. He thought he was losing his mind.

“All my life I’ve heard people tell me I wasn’t good enough,” Walker said. “Now I was scaring the woman I love.”

Herschel decided to go to a behavioral health hospital and was told he had Dissociative Identity Disorder, commonly known as having multiple personalities.

“I realized I used athletics as a coping mechanism for the pain I dealt with for being bullied as a kid,” Walker said. “I was afraid of the dark; I was afraid of everything. Then when I was 12 years old I had a voice in my head go, ‘Herschel, not anymore,’ so I created this Hulk character. I never dealt with the pain I had.”

This realization gave him a different perspective about how he’d approach training and problems in his life.

“When I started to realize what was happening to me, I started feeling a little bit better,” Walker said. “I started to have the confidence and faith to get back up when I got knocked down. In the beginning, it’s hard to show you’re vulnerable; now I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not perfect. I’m not going to say I’m weak, but I’m not going to say I’m strong either.”

Herschel commented to Airmen that no matter who you are, no one should have any shame or embarrassment getting help when needed.

“I think it’s fantastic how Herschel shares his story,” said Col. Derek Salmi, 92nd Air Refueling Wing commander. “Here’s somebody from the outside who has really been a champion at everything he’s ever done. He’s so honest and courageous when talking about the life struggles he’s had. He wasn’t afraid to ask for help and he came out the other end stronger.””

With gratitude after sharing his story, Walker thanked Team Fairchild for their service and sacrifice.

“He’s one of the most humble people you will ever meet,” Salmi said. “He won’t tell you he’s considered the greatest college football player of all time, or his all-pro selections to the NFL. He won’t mention competing in the Olympics on a bobsled team, his Mixed Martial Arts victories or that he even wins cooking shows. But what he will tell you about, and what I’m most proud of, is his story, his story of resiliency and building a legacy. That’s one that resonates here today.”

I think the lesson we all need to know moving forward it is ok to ask for help. It makes you stronger and Herschel Walker is a living testimony of that, Salmi added.

If you or someone you know needs help handling life challenges or is struggling with mental health, we have many resources and caring professionals at Fairchild. Some resources include Mental Health (509-247-2731), Military Family Life Counselors (509-592-6949/6951), and the Chaplain (247-2264) who can be reached 24/7 through the Command Post. You may also reach the Military Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.