Nearly 40 years after he first electrified college football, Herschel Walker can still draw a crowd.
He led the University of Georgia to a national title in 1980 as a freshman running back with a combination of speed and power, and won the Heisman Trophy in 1982.
On Wednesday, he spoke to hundreds of people at the Museum of Aviation. It was part of a “tactical pause” at Robins Air Force Base mandated by the Air Force to address a spike in suicides across the service.
Walker talked about his own struggles with mental illness, including thoughts of suicide. A devout Christian, he said he finally sought help after his wife told him she was afraid of him.
“I’m here to tell you the truth,” he said. “There’s no shame in asking for help. I did it. I feel better than I have ever felt in my life.”
Walker said he had a speech impediment as a child and was bullied. He said he began doing 5,000 push ups and 5,000 sit ups every day and eventually turned to football, overcame his speech problem and graduated high school as valedictorian.
After college he played in the US Football League and the National Football League. He also was on the 1992 Olympic bobsled team and has competed in mixed martial arts.
He still looks today like he could knock over a linebacker.
Walker visited units across the base and met with civilian and Air Force personnel. He grew up in Wrightsville, about 70 miles east of Robins, but said it was his first trip to the base.
“I’ve seen true heroes, people who are willing to sacrifice,” he said in an interview with media before the speech. “This is some hot weather, but you see young men and women out there doing their job in this weather.”
He said for the past decade he has visited approximately 400 military bases around the world to talk about mental health and resiliency.
Col. Brian Moore, commander of the 78th Air Base Wing, introduced Walker and urged audience members to seek help if they need it.
“When we break a bone, we go ask a doctor for help,” he said. “If we have problems with some of the stressors of today, and there’s many of them, folks need to know that it is the right thing to do, the courageous thing to do, to go get help.”
Among those in the audience was Scott Summers of Macon, whose wife works at Robins. He got there early and got Walker to sign his UGA football.
“It was just an honor to meet the man,” he said. “He’s a special person.”