By Andrew Sharbel, Belvoir EagleMarch 19, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. - Soldiers in Fort Belvoir's Warrior in Transition Unit were treated Tuesday to a presentation from one of the NFL's greatest running backs when Herschel Walker visited the installation to speak about brain disorders.
Walker himself has struggled with mental illness, a topic he discussed in his 2008 book 'Breaking Free'."
In addition to Walker's presentation, the Honorable Alfonso Maldron, Jr., a founding partner of the Washington Nationals Baseball Club also attended the event and addressed the Soldiers.
Before his speech, Walker spent his morning eating breakfast and talking to Soldiers at DeWitt Hospital.
Capt. E. Travonte Moten, commander of Belvoir's WTU, felt the presentation was very helpful for his Soldiers.
"I think this is an amazing story about someone who is very visible in the public eye that has a great story that talks about 'If I can do it, then you can do it," Moten said. "If he can come to terms with the fact that he has a mental illness and everyone knows who he is, then anybody can get the help they need.
"Our WTU is a little different from other, larger WTU's. We have a lot of Soldiers who are what we like to call Warriors with invisible disabilities. Those disabilities include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries," Moten said. "Probably about a minimum of 60 percent of our Soldiers have a behavioral health condition as their primary or secondary diagnosis, so this really hit home and I think our Soldiers took a lot away from this for that reason."
After winning the 1982 Heisman Trophy at the University of Georgia, Walker gave up his final year of collegiate eligibility and turned professional, joining the New Jersey Generals of the short-lived United States Football League.
After three years in the USFL, Walker joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1986, where he led the league in rushing and earned All-Pro honors. Walker moved to the Minnesota Vikings as starting running back in 1989. In 1992, he joined the Philadelphia Eagles, but returned to the Cowboys in 1996. He retired from the NFL in 1997.
Over the course of his career, Walker was one of the top running backs in the pros, gaining more yards than anyone in professional football history, counting his seasons in both the NFL and USFL.
Despite all of his accomplishments on the field, he was struggling off of it.
Ten years ago, Walker discovered he had a problem controlling his emotions and was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder.
During his speech, Walker told stories about his childhood and how he grew up not athletic, but worked his body into top physical shape by the ninth grade by doing pushups and sit-ups daily.
Walker said in his speech that finding a way to cope with a mental illness is all about doing whatever is most comfortable.
"We have coping mechanisms in our lives that we use and my coping mechanism was this physical football game, or this mixed martial arts I am doing now. I just loved competition and these mental problems I had were built up after I retired from football and they came to fruition," Walker said. "Unfortunately, some people cope with problems with alcohol and drugs, which are not coping mechanisms you should use."
Walker closed his speech by referencing the "Rocky" boxing movie series and his ability to never quit even when he had been knocked down.
"You got to have faith. You got to participate. You got to get involved. You got to do it, because it just doesn't happen," Walker said. "We pray so many times, thinking things are going to fall out of the sky and hit us on the head. It just doesn't happen. You got to get up and start doing something about it.
"When things get down, I don't care what your going through. It can be alcohol, drugs or mental illness. It isn't anything God hasn't seen and he is telling you to get up," Walker said. "For many years, I didn't see it, and now I do see it, and I am happy."