Joint Base Lewis-McChordCommunity
Confronting demons of the past may help save someone’s future
Story by Norman McKay on 09/10/2019
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. Bo’s mom called him big boned; kids in his hometown of Wrightsville, Ga., called him fat. Bo’s school teachers often put him in the corner for his stuttering and called him special; his classmates just called him retarded.
Even one of Bo’s classmates, Anthony Logan, regularly beat him, kicked him and made fun of him. Now 58 years old, Bo would like to meet up with Logan someday not for payback or revenge for being bullied but to thank him for helping guide his life.
Bo is the nickname Christine Walker calls her son, Herschel Walker. He was the winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy, went on to play 15 years of professional football and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
“I’m glad I was bullied like I was growing up,” Walker said. “It woke me up and kick-started, literally, myself to start working on me. If I were to run into (Logan) today, I would really thank him.”
It’s a story Walker talked about with service members and civilians at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Sept. 10 as part of National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. Although to many people Walker’s life may seem like a fairy tale, it was actually a secret life of struggles with his mental health disorder dissociative identity disorder.
“I honestly don’t remember why I started talking with the military,” Walker said. “Especially men in the military or athletes, they have to be tough; you can’t show weakness. But I’m here to tell you, everyone has problems. Maybe some of them were like me in a really dark place.
“I don’t want to see or hear about another suicide. I just want to help people have peace of mind in their life. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
To do that, Walker teams up with the national Universal Health Services’ Patriot Support Program, whose mission is to help service members in areas with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“You can do anything you want, as long as you’re willing to sacrifice,” Walker said. “When I was a kid, I sat in the back of the class, didn’t speak in class for four years and endured the bullying. But one day I just said, that’s enough.’ I started to work out, get in shape and read books.
“Then all of a sudden, I started to sit in the front of the class, became the fastest kid in Georgia and was valedictorian of my school. I not only received an athletic scholarship, I was given academic scholarships as well.”
His drive to succeed to win always, through college, three seasons in the now-defunct United States Football League and 12 years in the National Football League came with a price. Walker developed an alter ego.
“When I was first diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, a split personality basically, my first thought was Sybil,'” Walker said, relating to a book and later a 1976 movie starring Sally Field about a girl suffering with 13 different personalities. “My wife told me things I did that I can’t remember doing. My wife said I scared her. I’m thinking, how can that happen? I’m Hershel Walker. How can I have problems?
“But I did. I had anger problems.”
Before Walker and his wife, Cindy, divorced in 2002, Walker said his wife tried to tell him something was wrong. She even told him that he would pace the floor like a caged tiger.
Walker doesn’t remember doing that, he said.
“So I looked for help, and I found it,” Walker said. “If you’re going through something, there is no shame to ask for help. Don’t put it off. Don’t wait for tomorrow.
“If I would have waited for tomorrow, I may not be here today.”