published Monday, May 10th, 2010

Wiedmer: Walker still giving back as much as he gets

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Herschel Walker

A friend of mine tackled Herschel Walker one time during a Southeastern Conference football game. The Georgia running back got up from that collision. My friend didn't. He sustained a concussion and was carried from the field.

Asked later what it was like to run into the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner's thigh pad, my friend said, "It was like running full-speed into a telephone pole. He wasn't going to give, so I did."

And that's kind of how the 48-year-old Walker has lived his life. Always straight ahead. Always unwilling to bend. Always determined to accomplish his goal, whether it was winning Georgia the 1980 national championship as a freshman running back, challenging the NFL's rule against underclassmen playing pro football by signing with the fledgling United States Football League after his junior year, becoming a member of the United States two-man bobsled team for the 1992 Winter Olympics, appearing with the Fort Worth Ballet in 1988 or winning back-to-back Superstars competitions in 1987 and 1988.

Then there's that martial arts thing. A fifth-degree black belt in tae kwon do, Walker's been breaking boards in two for more than 30 years. Now he's also 1-0 as a mixed martial arts (MMA) professional, having won his first fight in January of this year with a third-round knockout of Greg Nagy with a punch to the shoulder.

"I'm going to fight one more time," said Walker on Friday during an overnight stop in Chattanooga during the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America. "Then I'm going to retire undefeated."

On top of everything else, Walker almost looks younger than he did during his playing career between the hedges, not a wrinkle on his face, barely a smidgeon of gray in hair.

"I actually weigh five pounds less than I did at Georgia," he said after climbing off his motorcycle. "I played at about 220 and I'm probably 215 now. I just like to stay in shape. God only gives you one body."

It's the broken bodies of the children Petty's charity ride are trying to help that Walker has become determined to help the past six years. It led him to join Petty's 3,800-mile trek across America to help raise money and awareness for Victory Junction, the camp Petty runs in North Carolina for seriously ill children from age 6 to 16.

"I hadn't heard about Victory Junction, but I knew I loved motorcycles," said Walker. "I was told they'd love to have me but I needed a better bike than I had. (Dallas Cowboys coach Tom) Landry always told me that when you take something out, put something back, and I thought this would be a good way to do that."

Problem was, Walker's motorcycle wasn't good enough, according to a biker friend.

"He told me my bikes were Starbucks bikes. 'They're good to go to Starbucks and back home,' he said. 'They're show bikes, they're not bikes to drive across America.' So I ended up building a couple of them."

He has always done things his way. He swears he never lifted weights, instead building his perfect body by doing 2,500 situps and 1,500 pushups each and every day. He eats one meal, usually at night, almost always a salad. He rarely sleeps more than four hours a night.

"But this MMA stuff is the hardest thing I've ever done," he said. "It's the ultimate competition."

And 30 years after leading Georgia to the national championship, Walker still considers the SEC the ultimate college league.

"You can't do the Run and Shoot or California offense in the SEC," he said. "The SEC is about blocking and tackling and running the football. Line it up and go get it."

That's also why he believes new Tennessee coach Derek Dooley -- who was a young teenager when Walker was playing for Derek's dad Vince -- will succeed with the Vols.

"Derek believes in running the football," he said. "In the SEC that's what you've got to do."

Walker believes in Petty's Victory Junction as much as anything he's ever supported.

"I'm very fortunate to have a healthy child and he's doing very well," he said. "But some of those families (helped by Victory Junction) are with their child 24 hours a day every day. That's very tough. Pattie and Kyle and his family have put together a program at the camp where the children can come and be taken care of and the parents can walk away for awhile.

"To see those parents smile and hear them say they're getting a chance to see their kid smile for the first time is very special."

Coach Landry might say that it's what giving something back is all about.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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