A University of Georgia flag in one hand and a miniature football helmet in the other, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kelvin Hatcher wore a grin Wednesday as he approached retired All-Pro running back Herschel Walker.
Walker, who had just given an hour-long talk at Fairchild Air Force Base about mental health, engaged the couple of hundred airmen and airwomen, taking pictures and signing memorabilia.
Hatcher grew up in Macon, Georgia, idolizing the Peach State's Heisman Trophy winner. These days, Hatcher is more interested in the 56-year-old's public service and his book, "Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder," which details Walker's struggles and what he did to seek help.
"I really challenge my airmen to really reach out if they're going through things," Hatcher said. "Just based off (Walker), his story and reading his book. It's been amazing for us."
Walker, who rushed for more than 8,000 yards in his 13 years in the NFL, has toured military bases for nearly a decade in an effort to promote wellness and end the stigma of mental illness.
On Wednesday, the former Dallas Cowboys star spoke on stage at Fairchild's theater, entertaining the audience with old football stories and humorous analogies that often segued into an important message.
He referenced adversity in action movies, his recent stint as a 50-something MMA fighter, and growing up bullied as a stuttering and obese child who went on to become a valedictorian.
"All of a sudden, there's six Predators and only one Danny Glover," Walker said of the end of "Predator 2," the reference evoking a few laughs from the audience. "But then Danny Glover did something so powerful that everyone has to do in life: He jumped to his feet, grabbed the blade and said, 'Who's next?' "
About a decade ago Walker said he diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, after he said his ex-wife had become afraid of him. He'd become reckless, he said, and had long had violent ideations.
The three-time SEC Player of the Year wasn't suicidal, he said, but recalled playing Russian roulette with a loaded pistol.
"I would take a gun, put to my head and (pull the trigger)," he said. "I didn't know how lost I was until I had a doctor explain what was happening to me."
Walker had gone most of his life knowing how to deal with physical pain and injuries, but not his mental state. As a coping mechanism, Walker would write down all of his frustrations and insecurities, but never spoke to anyone.
"You have to open up, that's one of the biggest things," Walker said. "It's hard sometimes to show that you're vulnerable, but communicating and taking the initial step is big."
"If you're going through things, whether it's loneliness or whatever the case may be, it's good to voice your problems and seek help," Hatcher said. ___
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