SI Vault
Terry Todd
October 04, 1982
So says Georgia's Herschel Walker, and you best believe him. At 12 he marshaled the elements—good genes, iron will and some help from Mama—that have made him a tank of a running back
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October 04, 1982

'my Body's Like An Army'

So says Georgia's Herschel Walker, and you best believe him. At 12 he marshaled the elements—good genes, iron will and some help from Mama—that have made him a tank of a running back

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Dooley says forthrightly that Georgia's policy is for Walker to design his own program during the season. Dooley knows how hard Walker works, and he feels much as the owner of a perfectly tuned, frequently needed Maserati would feel were someone to suggest that perhaps the car would go even faster if it had some major work on the motor.

To lift or not to lift, that's the question for Walker, free to choose his own training program. His answer is startling. "Nobody ever really asked me why I don't lift. They only ask me how I got so big without lifting. The truth is, I knew weights would help me. I've seen them help too many football players and too many track men. But up to now my body's gotten stronger and faster every year on my old program, and what I reckon I'll do is to try and see how long I can keep improving without the weights. One thing's sure. Soon as I don't make gains, I'm going on a good weight program. The way I figure it, all the other guys my age have lifted for years and they've already just about reached their physical potential. I figure that when I kick in with a weight program, it ought to add some solid weight and really give me a lot more power." He smiled as he finished this distinctly thought-provoking statement, made at least partly to himself. Scores of defensive players can testify to the percussive force Herschel already produces, especially when he has the time to take a step or two. When those opponents are either overcome by, or forced to gang up to contain, the shock of a head-on hit by Walker, they at least have the satisfaction of knowing they were bested by a man whose combined size and speed—whose power—is unmatched in history. And is growing, because of a continued genetic flowering and further refinements, zealously pursued, in his basic exercise program. To his regular push-ups Walker has added hand-stand press-ups and push-ups done with someone on his back to increase the resistance. During the past summer he also has included sprint swimming in his routine of upper-body work. The swimming was added when Walker, in the pool by himself one day, noticed that a modified form of the breaststroke, in which his body surges more upward than forward, gave his chest, shoulders and upper back a terrific workout. This past summer he swam every day he was able to get to a pool.

One thing is certain: When Walker decides the time has come to lift, he will lift. And lift. Even his oldest friends can't remember when he wasn't a worker. "I recollect old Herschel way back in junior high doing all those push-ups," says Milton Moorman, Walker's good pal since elementary school. "He'd do 'em and do 'em. And run? I remember when he used to drag me over to the track on Sunday afternoon, our one day off, and we'd pull the tire till I couldn't pull it no more. But Herschel, he'd be pulling on it till it got slap dark."

The tire was a device rigged up by Jordan; it involved putting a 16-pound shot inside a truck tire and attaching the tire to a 15-foot steel cable, which was then tied to a leather belt around the runner's waist. Dragging the tire developed Herschel's leg and hip power, as did his run-without-ceasing assault on the slight grade leading 110 yards up to his house from the highway. "I wish I had a dollar for every time Herschel ran up that hill," his mother says. "Him and Veronica and the other children would race and race. Even me and my husband would get into it. Later on, some of the time when Herschel couldn't get nobody to race him, he'd go out back to the field and chase those horses around. Herschel wanted to be good mighty bad."

The influence of his big, solid family, and especially of his mother and their shared religious faith, cannot be overlooked in any explanation of Herschel's character. "Last year in Athens I asked Herschel if he ever heard Mama talking to him while he was doing something like running or studying, and he laughed and asked me was I crazy, that Mama was down in Wrightsville," Veronica said recently. "But when I told him I was serious, he said, 'Yes, I do, Veronica. I hear her all the time. I can feel her with me just as plain as day.' She always told us to strive, to always give one hundred and ten percent. That's what she always said, a hundred and ten percent. And that's what we still hear her say."

The training Walker got from Christine Walker still shows in small but revealing ways. "The other day I got up even earlier than usual because I had an early appointment," he told a visitor not long ago, "and I left my room without doing something I always do—making my bed. Well, all morning I had that bed on my mind, all rumpled up back there in my room. Finally, just before noon, I couldn't stand it anymore and I went back to the dorm and made it up." But lest the unkempt among us feel at all sorry for a person in whose life regularity is so paramount, we should remember that Picasso worked hard at his craft almost every day of his long life and that Kant was so systematic in his daily walks in Königsberg that the hausfraus were said to set their clocks by his passing.

One of the things this passion for scheduling has allowed Walker to do is to excel in the classroom—he has at least a solid B average as a criminology major—while maintaining his athletics, his personal conditioning program and an interview calendar that would have daunted Hubert Humphrey. Herschel is proud of his schoolwork, understandably so, and resents any suspicion that his good marks result from his prowess on the playing field. He goes to class every day he's in Athens and he keeps up with his work. He graduated as president of the honor society in his class in high school because he lugged an armful of books home every evening after practice and studied late into the night.

Of course, the fact that he thrives on half the normal amount of sleep does give him a daily four-hour advantage over the rest of us. And this with no alarm clock. When asked what would happen if he went to sleep at 10 p.m. or so, he replied, "I've tried that a couple of times, but I just wake up at two or three the next morning." Although he lionshares certain traits with his siblings, such as thick bones and speed afoot, his sleeping patterns, consistent since his midteens, are his alone.

Many explanations exist for such a condition. One of particular interest centers around the fact that many strength athletes who have used large amounts of injectable testosterone, the male hormone, to improve their performances have noticed that one of its side effects was that they were rarely able to sleep for more than four or five hours at a time. The point of this observation is most definitely not to suggest that any reason exists to even suspect that Walker would use testosterone, but merely to speculate as to whether or not he may, as part of his genetic makeup, have a level of natural testosterone far beyond the norm. Were this so, it might even help explain his upper body, which looks rather like a dark brown, triangularly shaped nylon sack filled with just the right number of 16-pound shots.

But whether it is his body or his mind that wakes him early each morning. Walker fills his days with a sense of purpose far beyond his years. "I know I've been called to do something special," he says softly, sounding for all the world like Frodo Baggins agreeing to bear to Mordor the Ring of Power, "but I'm not sure what it will be. Maybe it will be in football, but football's only part of my life. All I know is that my part is to strive to do my best. To try and not to quit. If I can just do that, I reckon I'll be shown the way."

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