The scene: A track met at a school in Wrightsville, Georgia, about 100 miles south of Athens, and sixty miles east of Macon. The scorching Georgia sun blazed the field; runners were poised for the one-mile race. The gun was fired, and they were on their way. One of them was a black boy, a sixth-grader, who dreamed of being an athlete - perhaps a basketball player or a track star, like his two older brothers. But a timidity kept him from making the first step. Now, at last, he had his chance.
For weeks he and his brother had practiced running; they had built a make-believe track on a dirt field near their house. The problem was, the track was not a mile long; practices were cut short. Deficiency did its damage. Herschel Walker just couldn't make it.
Visualize this: He's supercharged with energy; this is his first race ever. "Faster, faster, faster," he whispers, as one runner after another whizzes by on that long weary track - a track which seemed longer and longer with each struggling step. With perspiration dripping from his face, legs getting weaker, heart pounding, and almost out of breath, he slowed to a murmuring walk; then, with a gasp, he stopped and quit the race.
Herschel was bitter; he'd never had to quit anything. He faced the reality that he had not been prepared for track, and there was no one to blame but himself. He wanted to do better, and when that desire became strong enough, he made up his mind to pay the price. Never again would he allow himself to quit.
This was the turning point in his life. Adversity causes some to break, and others to break records. Herschel Walker took the positive side. It led him to win the Heisman Trophy, to be chosen All American, to win 11 of 13 records at the University of Georgia, to lead his team to its first national championship and more.
Herschel erased the names of Charlie Trippi and Frank Sinkwich from Georgia's football record book, and left college to accept the richest contract in professional football history.
Returning to Wrightsville after his initial failure, Herschel made up his mind about one thing - while he wasn't good at anything yet, he was going to get prepared.
So he went to Tom Jordan, coach at Johnson High School, and told him he wanted to get bigger and stronger and faster so he could be better in sports. What could he do?
Jordan said it was simple, but it would not be a Sunday school picnic. He'd have to work hard.
"Start doing push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints; push-ups, sit-ups, and sprints." He said.
"Is that all?" asked Herschel.
The coach was silent. Herschel got the message, and got busy.From that day on, he seldom missed a day doing those exercises. The house where he lived was about 5.5 miles from Wrightsville, a short distance from the highway, on a dirt road. The dirt road had a grade, and Herschel began running up the hill, a distance of about 50 yards, and walking back down. Once, twice, three times, again and again, as fast as his legs would take him until he nearly dropped with exhaustion.
It was hard, but he conquered the hill. He then moved to an open field which had been freshly plowed adjacent to his house. He had heard that some players in California ran along the beaches to strengthen their legs. He thought: "The fields will be better."
So, he hit the dirt barefooted.
Later, at the suggestion of the coach, he tied a huge truck tire to a rope and fastened it to the rope around his waist, and ran the dirt fields like a wild animal.
Well, you've got it figured out by now. Soon the coach noticed that a once overweight boy was now ready to run and play football. So he did, and the rest is history.
He once told a group of admirers after a game, "I want to be the best of which I am capable. I don't want to be like someone else. I want to be better. I want them to say Herschel Walker is the best."
His desire became a reality.
Time passed. Herschel became a genuine football star at Johnson High. Gary Phillips, an assistant coach, said he did not let anything overpower him. "He might be the strongest person mentally of any I've ever been around."
He used it well. In his senior year, he ran for 3,167 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Herschel weighed 215 pounds, was 6 feet 2 inches tall, and could run the 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds. It is hard to think of anyone with that size and speed and mental toughness in one player. He became the number one high school player to be sought by American colleges.
He decided on Georgia. At UGA, he ran his first touchdown for 16 yards against Tennessee. His freshman rushing record of 1,616 yards made him All-American, and the great Sugar Bowl victory he led for his team won him the Heisman Trophy.
It was a first in football history. No freshman had ever been even a top-ten contender. There was no football player like Herschel, as one coach put it, "He's from a different planet." And the sky was the limit when it came to being the most sought-after player in college for the professional football leagues. Canada was first.
After the Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame, where he gained a whopping 150 yards against a team that had never allowed any running back to gain as much as 100 in any one game, he was approached by an agent of the Canadian Football League. The offer was $2 million over three years.
Herschel turned down the offer, saying, "It doesn't make sense growing up in one country and playing football in another."
But the lure of the professionals continued. The New Jersey Generals, a newly organized United States Football League team, made him an offer. According to Vince Dooley, in his book "Dooley's Dawgs," Herschel was tricked into signing the contract with the promise that he could change his mind the next morning. But the contract caused him to lose his eligibility to play at Georgia, and he went with the Generals.
Dooley said the happiest day in his life was winning the national championship with Herschel's leadership; then, it was the saddest day in Dooley's career when Herschel was declared ineligible' and left Georgia.
There is an old football story about Lee Roy. In a tough game, his fans yelled, "Give Lee Roy the ball." After about three quarters of slaughter on the field, Lee Roy shouted back, "Lee Roy don't want the ball."
Herschel did. It was his big desire, a dream fulfilled. He carried the ball for the Generals until 1985, then from Dallas, Minnesota, Philadelphia and New England until 1995, and then the Dallas Cowboys again.
His first contract with Dallas was $5 million for five years, making him the highest-paid Cowboy ever.
For Herschel, happiness, not money, is his goal. "I never had any money when I was growing up. My life revolved around happiness. It still does.