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Former NFL star Walker visits Fort Drum

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FORT DRUM — Visiting the post on Thursday afternoon, former college football and NFL star Herschel Walker shed light on his long-time struggles with mental illness and his subsequent views on life.

Before he was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder several years ago, Walker’s condition reached such a state that he couldn’t even remember he had won the Heisman Trophy back in his college days, let alone the occasion.

“It was a scary time,” Walker said at the post’s packed Multi-Purpose Auditorium filled with soldiers as he discussed DID — formerly known as multiple personality disorder. “But I finally reached out and got help — and most times that’s the biggest and hardest step you can take.”

Walker revealed his battles with mental illness in his autobiography “Breaking Free,” and since has visited other military posts in an attempt to reach out to others with his message.

“It was very dangerous,” said the 50-year-old Walker, a 15-year pro football veteran. “My name is Herschel Walker and if I had not gotten help — I never had a drink or taken drugs — there was no doubt in my mind that I would have killed myself.”

He continued: “It’s important for me to first think of the men and women of the armed services. The reason why is that even today when everything (overseas) seems to be over and dying down, we forget about exactly what they’ve done for us. What they’ve done is given us our freedom — and there’s a price for freedom.”

But Walker did seek out help, and after successful treatment, has lived life with a renewed vigor.

“When you look at it, there’s no shame in asking for help — especially when people are struggling to get through what they’re going through,” said Walker, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame for his play at the University of Georgia. “Look at me today — I’m not weak and I’m better person because I reached out and asked for help — through God as well.”

Walker’s NFL career with four different teams placed him fifth on the NFL’s career rushing list with 13,787 yards.

“I enjoyed my football career,” said Walker, a native of Wrightsville, Ga. “But little did I know what was to come. But I got help and today I’m a better person for it.”

Walker, one of the most recruited and highly sought high school football players at the time, went on to star at Georgia. He says his biggest memory of the sport was his freshman season with the Bulldogs in 1980, when he set the NCAA freshman rushing record. Later that season, Walker went on to lead Georgia to the national championship after defeating Notre Dame, 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl.

“That was a special year not only with what we accomplished but because we were so close as a team,” he said.

Walker, who helped lead the Bulldogs to three consecutive SEC titles, is the only player in NCAA history to finish in the top three in Heisman Award voting in all three of his collegiate seasons — winning the award in 1982.

In 1983, Walker joined the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, since the league allowed players to turn professional after their junior seasons.

“That’s when I knew Donald before he was ‘The Donald,’” Walker said of the Generals’ team owner, Donald Trump. “It was a fun league.”

After three years with the Generals, during which he won USFL rushing titles in 1983 and 1985, Walker reached the NFL after the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in 1985.

Joining the Cowboys in 1986, Walker played for legendary coach Tom Landry and shared rushing duties with Tony Dorsett, becoming the first Heisman backfield tandem in NFL history.

After three-plus seasons with Dallas where he became just the 10th player in NFL history to record more than 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards in a season, Walker was unexpectedly traded to Minnesota in 1989. Except there was a hitch — the new Cowboys management didn’t know Walker had a no-trade clause in his contract.

Eventually after both sides struck a deal, Walker joined the Vikings during the 1989 season, and he didn’t have the warmest reception upon his arrival in Minnesota since five Vikings had been traded to Dallas in what became known as “The Great Train Robbery.”

Walker enjoyed his time playing with the Philadelphia Eagles for three seasons (1992-94), but didn’t want to follow his friend and teammate Reggie White to Green Bay.

Following a short stint with the New York Giants, Walker returned to Dallas for two more seasons where he “really felt at home,” before retiring after the 1997 campaign.

After retirement, Walker stayed “very active,” branching out into Olympic competition in the 1992 Winter Games in two-man bobsled, finishing seventh, after training in Lake Placid.

Walker, who has a fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do and nearly made the Olympic team as a runner in the sprint relay, most recently has competed in mixed martial arts, winning both his bouts so far.

Walker concluded: “The basic message is don’t be ashamed to ask for help, you won’t be any less of a person. I did and I’m not ashamed and I want to get the message across that there’s no shame in getting help.”

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