The NFL legend and Heisman Trophy winner shares the inspiring story of his life and diagnosis with dissociative identity disorder.
Herschel Walker is widely regarded as one of football's greatest running backs. He led the University of Georgia to victory in the Sugar Bowl on the way to an NCAA Championship and he capped a sensational college career by earning the 1982 Heisman Trophy. Herschel spent twelve years in the NFL, where he rushed for more than eight thousand yards and scored sixty-one rushing touchdowns.
But despite the acclaim he won as a football legend, track star, Olympic competitor, and later a successful businessman, Herschel realized that his life, at times, was simply out of control. He often felt angry, self-destructive, and unable to connect meaningfully with friends and family. Drawing on his deep faith, Herschel turned to professionals for help and was ultimately diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
While some might have taken this diagnosis as a setback, Herschel approached his mental health with the same indomitable spirit he brought to the playing field. It also gave him, for the first time, insight into his life's unexplained passages, stretches of time that seemed forever lost. Herschel came to understand that during those times, his “alters,” or alternate personalities, were in control.
Born into a poor, but loving family in the South, Herschel was an overweight child with a stutter who suffered terrible bullying at school. He now understands that he created "alters" who could withstand abuse. But beyond simply enduring, other “alters” came forward to help Herschel overcome numerous obstacles and, by the time he graduated high school, become an athlete recognized on a national level.
In Breaking Free, Herschel tells his story—from the joys and hardships of childhood to his explosive impact on college football to his remarkable professional career. And he gives voice and hope to those suffering from DID. Herschel shows how this disorder played an integral role in his accomplishments and how he has learned to live with it today. His compelling account testifies to the strength of the human spirit and its ability to overcome any challenge.
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About the Author
Herschel Walker played professional football for the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, and Minnesota Vikings. He now owns a number of businesses, including a food service company, under the name Renaissance Man International. He lives in Dallas, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
The day had started like most others in my life. I rose well before my wife, Cindy, and son, Christian, were awake. I slipped quietly down the stairs of our suburban Dallas home and stepped into what I consider in some ways to be my safe haven my workout and exercise area. I got down on the floor and began my usual routine 2,500 sit-ups and 1,500 push-ups. I'd been following that same pattern for more than twenty-eight years, 365 days a year come rain or shine, feast or famine, on the road or at home. Only today, in the process of writing this, did I calculate what that all meant: 17,500 situps a week; 910,000 per year; 25.480 million since it all began back in Wrightsville, Georgia, as a chunky sixth grader. By my calculations, it will take me a little more than twelve and a half more years to reach 37 million the number of miles the Earth is from Jupiter. My allusion to another planet is deliberate; for a lot of my life, I've felt like an alien, and tried to put a great distance between other people and me.
After I finished my workout, I took a quick shower and then I sat and read the newspapers with the television turned to CNN, to catch up on the world's events, just as I did nearly every morning. That routine comforted me; my playing days were over in one sense but in many others they never ended. I folded up the papers and put them in the recycling bin. I brushed my teeth and checked on Christian before going to my home office, where I spent the rest of the morning. Cindy came in at one point to let me know that she was going out with some friends for lunch, and she'd be taking Christian with her. I kissed them both good-bye and returned to my work.
A few hours later, I was still seated at my desk, reviewing some paperwork I'd taken home regarding a potential deal I was hoping to make. I was determined to make Renaissance Man Food Services and Herschel's Famous 34 major players in a very tough industry. Since I'd stopped playing football three years before in 1998, I'd been focusing much of my competitive energy on making my many business interests flourish. Things were going well. I really didn't need to work, money was not an issue for me, but I'd been relentlessly restless for the last twenty-five years of my life, and I wasn't about to slow down.
I'd sat there checking and rechecking some numbers, when I glanced at the calendar on my desk. The date was February 24, 2001. In exactly seven days, I was going to turn thirty-nine years old. Hard to believe that time had passed so quickly. I'd enjoyed a stellar college career, won the Heisman Trophy, finished up my professional days as the number two player in all-purpose yardage (number one if you considered, which the NFL didn't, my yards earned in the USFL), represented my country in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, been paid millions of dollars for playing a game, and earned millions more from endorsement deals. I'd been able to help family and friends, met with presidents and business leaders, was married to the only woman I'd ever loved, had a son I adored. Considering all that, what was about to happen made little sense to me then, and only now can I understand my actions at all.
The phone rang. It was my friend Robert Jones's wife, Natalie. When I heard her voice, I suspected what the call was about. I looked at the calendar again. It had been almost six days. Natalie and I exchanged hellos.
"Herschel," she said, "he's here but Bob isn't around. What do you want me to do?"
I felt as though someone had thrown a switch in my head. "Natalie, whatever you do, you tell that man not to do anything. He's to stay right there. He better not even think about unloading that car."
"Herschel, I'll talk to him, but "
I cut her off. "Natalie, I'm telling you, that man had better not touch that car or move a muscle."
"I'll see what I can do."
In one part of my brain, Natalie's frightened tone registered and made me even angrier. Not at her, but at the guy sitting in her driveway. He'd jerked me around long enough. I was going to put an end to that. What's right is right, and what this man had been doing was wrong. Way wrong. I could never abide by people taking advantage of someone else especially me. Another part of me felt bad about putting Natalie, an innocent bystander, in a tough position and for alarming her. That didn't stop the downhill slide I felt, the rapid acceleration of my emotions.
"I'm getting in the car, and I'll be there in twenty minutes. He better be there when I get there."
I slammed the phone down, grabbed a set of keys, and literally ran out of the house to the garage. I stood in the weak February sunlight, pressing the button on the key fob, listening for the distinctive blip that would tell me which car's keys I'd grabbed. I hustled over to the far bay and waited impatiently for the opener to raise the door. I was tempted to grab the handle myself; instead, I waited for what seemed minutes for the rattling mechanism to do its work. Sliding behind the wheel of my Mercedes E Class sedan, I felt like there was a war raging inside of me.
Natalie had called to let me know that a car that I'd ordered from a man in Philadelphia had arrived. I'd originally asked that it be delivered to Robert's house because I was scheduled to be out of town. Well, my trip had come and gone, and still no car had been delivered. Six days had passed, and this man had not honored our agreement. I'd spent three days sitting at home waiting to hear from him, expecting that he'd be honorable enough to at least keep me posted on the status of the delivery. And now this? He doesn't even return my calls, but instead calls my friend's house, completely ignoring my message that it should now be delivered straight to me? Was that any way to do business? Did this guy think he could get away with not keeping his word? I couldn't let him get away with that.
I could feel my jaw pulsing and my teeth grinding as I sped down Church Road toward Robert's house. I wondered for a moment if my Beretta pistol was still in the glove compartment. I'd been a licensed and registered handgun owner for years, had permits to carry a concealed weapon, and had even gone to the FBI academy during two off-seasons to do some training. I'd majored in criminal justice in college and had dreamed of serving in the FBI. The logical side of me knew that what I was thinking of doing to this man murdering him for messing up my schedule wasn't a viable alternative. But another side of me was so angry that all I could think was how satisfying it would feel to step out of the car, pull out the gun, slip off the safety, and squeeze the trigger. It would be no different from sighting on the targets I'd fired at for years except for the visceral enjoyment I'd get from seeing the small entry wound and the spray of brain tissue and blood like a Fourth of July firework exploding behind him.
Every few seconds, I'd hear a voice telling me, "No, Herschel, that's wrong. You can't shoot a man down in cold blood over this." Over that voice I'd hear another urging me on: "You've got to take care of business. This guy has done you wrong. You can't let him get away with that. Kill him." Over and over these two voices were shouting at me, each one pleading with me. As I made the turn south on the four-lane highway that would take me to the subdivision where Robert and Natalie lived, I began to pray to God. For even longer than I'd been doing my daily routine of exercises, I'd been praying. As a born-again Christian, I believe God actively and directly influences me to action. I asked that He help stop me from what I was about to do.
"Lord, Jesus, I do not want to kill this man. Please, dear God, somehow show me what it is that I should do."
My hands were crushing the steering wheel, and when I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror, I saw the veins and sinews in my face and neck standing out like rivers and streams on a relief map. My face was contorted and it was difficult for me to believe that the person I saw in that mirror, eyes darting furiously from the mirror to the road ahead, was really me.
Like the pulsing rhythm of a chorus, the two voices kept up a relentless beat. Simultaneously, I felt frightened, exhilarated, disgusted, at peace, and resigned. Motoring up to Robert's house, I felt as if adrenaline was being pumped by the gallon into my system. Everything came into such sharp focus. Every red petal of the flowering burning bush that lined the driveway stood out in stark contrast to the boxwood evergreens that squatted in front of them. Red. Green. Go. Stop. Do it. Don't.
I repeated my plea to God for guidance. As always, He was there for me then.
I stopped the car and slammed the shifter into park. As I was reaching for the glove compartment to check for my gun, I could see through the web of steel that made up the carriage of the auto transport trailer to the back window of the semi's cab.
SMILE. JESUS LOVES YOU read the sticker plastered there.
I had my answer. I sat in the car for a few minutes, head in my hands, giving thanks to God. The voices quieted and then fell silent. All I could hear was the ticking of my turn signal. Lord knows how long it had been on, but I knew that I needed to take a new direction in my life.
The Herschel Walker who had driven to that house with murder in his heart and mind was not the Herschel Walker I had been for most of life. Something was clearly wrong with me, and I had to figure out what it was. And quickly.
All my life I've faced life's battles head-on and at great speed. I was about to embark on a challenge I'd never thought I'd have to face, but one that I was determined to win. For a while then, and at various periods of my life, I felt like I was losing control, spiraling downward, acting out in ways I'd never thought possible. I'd been wondering if I needed professional help in answering this question: "Doctor, am I crazy?"
Before I would see a doctor, though, I had more push-ups and sit-ups to do. Why was that 37 million miles to Jupiter and the number of exercises I completed so important to me? Because for a lot of my life I've felt isolated from the rest of the world. I'd been running for most of life, from what only I really knew but seldom talked about. It was time to stop running and face some harsh realities.
Copyright © 2008 by Herschel Walker
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As someone who has a history of anxiety disorder, I have great empathy for others who have any type of mental disorder. Maybe this book will decrease the stigma of mental disorders. I read his story & I'm impressed with his candor & courage. This book will give hope to alot of people. God bless you Mr Walker.
This book is awsome and a very good read. I have always been told great things about Herschel Walker and had gained a great deal of respect for him. After reading this book, I understand why he is so loved. His kindness resonates through the pages which is very well displayed. I highly recommend this book and wish him the very best life has to offer.
This is not just a autobiography of a famous athelete, it shows the PERSON behind the feats . His personal religious belief is a great testimony of a christian's life.
The blog written after the interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells more about Walker's condition than his book does. I thought it was very disappointing...it lacked fleshing out characters like his wife, sister, parents. There are also only about 3 instances explained of how the DID helped him in life. I also find a real lack in the specific traumas that led to DID developing, other than vague terms such as being bullied. We don't get a real feel for what he experienced. I found it hard to sympathize with him because it just was the bones of a book without real development of his experiences. Sadly, he could offer a lot of insight to millions about this disorder, but it falls short. He says he is very quiet and reserved and that shows in this book...why he even wrote a memoir is baffling. We do know a few for sure things that he repeats over and over...he works hard, he was a great student, he's athletically gifted...but I think we knew that from following his career. Oh, and Herschel...Fargo is in NORTH Dakota, not South Dakota. You must have been at a game the day your class studied the Great Plains. Who edited this book? They failed the Herschel Walker story!
Mr. Walker lays it all out there, in an easy to understand way. DID is presented in a manner that allows the reader with DID to find positive afformations. Readers without DID will find each page filled with wonderful Hershel Walker at his grid-iron best. No matter who you are, you are likely to find this story of life with DID enjoyable.
Had no idea that Herschel Walker had any illness. This is an amazing story of how anyone can triumph over tragedy a very frank and honest telling of his life and illness. Recommend for everyone even if you are not a fan of Herschel Walker or football it is a great read.
Herschel Walker has written a warts-and-all biography, driven by his diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Walker, a brilliant college performer at Georgia and a tough running back in Dallas, Philadelphia and Minnesota, rekindles memories of a painful childhood, overweight and stuttering, mocked and bullied by his schoolmates. He developed 'alters' alternate personalties to help him deal with the emotional abuse and the loneliness that came with it. He carried those 'alters' into adult life and at times they helped him block out distractions and endure pain. He once held a pistol to his head with one bullet in the chamber and played Russian Roulette, pulling the trigger twice. He once contemplated killing an auto dealership employee who was late delivering a new car. He decided to seek help and a therapist diagnosed him with DID. Walker says he was motivated to write the book by the possibility of helping others with the condition.
I rushed out to grab a copy of this book due to the fact that I am a huge Georgia Bulldog fan therefore a Walker admirer. I have to admit that at first I was incredibly skeptical regarding his claim. But as I read through the vivid details of his life examples of dealing with his 'alters' and the experiences from his childhood that incubated the condition, I became convinced. This is an amazing journey! I wish the best to Herschel.
Unfortunately, this is yet another made-up case of DID that doesn't bond with reality. His symptoms aren't even indicative of DID as much as just being normal, just with average problems that most people face, which is somehow considered abnormal here when it's not even particularly severe. Here, it's all dramatized, but it totally fails to fit the model of DID. Don't take my word for it; go try to even speak to a person with DID. They'll switch personalities on the fly and have no memory of the previous ten minutes. Yeah, what's here is nonsense, for sure, and it also dangerously trivializes DID and further affirms that North America is obsessed with it, despite it being practically the only continent on Earth with any cases of it. It's a very popular disorder, for sure, and will remain trendy for being so damned cool for the kids and profitable for clinicians who effortlessly do random treatments for an iatrogenic disease. Currently, there is no book at all that I know of that presents an accurate case of DID. The disorder is so extraordinarily rare, with over 98% of cases being a matter of the clinician planting it on the patient to continue a mutual relationship where the doctor gets paid to convince the other person that they're special. This is, unfortunately, one of those cases, if you read between the lines and realize he doesn't really have any major problems, just normal stuff that he has to cope with. And since doctors love over-diagnosing and he was probably depressed, the two hit it off with this totally fabricated case of DID. Poor taste, man. A terrible false case of DID that actually sets research of the disorder back and further affirms that North America loves this disease for no real reason except for its arbitrariness.
This book should be listed under 'fiction.' Sybil was also presented as a true story of multiple personality disorder and has been completely disredited. Herschel Walker developed this illness from BULLYING? So now it can be developed under almost any sort of difficult circumstances in which children find themselves? Now it's not only if you were hung upside down and given enemas by force? In this case we should have a planet full of multiples!!! Read the Herschel Walker interview on Dr. Gupta's blog. People he knew his whole life NEVER noticed different 'personalities.' I believe he does have this disorder, but that it was manufactured in therapy.