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Jonny Walker, 39, is a former American goalkeeper of Jacksonville Cyclones, MetroStars and Columbus Crew and Chilean outfits Universidad Católica, Huachipato and Colo-Colo. He also made three appearances for the US national team.

"I had a moderately successful career, if you realise how many players worldwide are playing the game", Walker says. "It speaks volumes that you manage to play in another country, which means that you have to be better than the domestic players. Also, it was an honour to play for the national team when there were so many good American goalkeepers."

Walker's professional career lasted from 1996 till 2006. He had to stop due to a serious back injury.

What followed was one ofthe most difficult period in Walker's life. "Before I retired, I never had any psychological problems. I am a positive person by nature."

Life changed quickly.

Walker: "One day you are on the pitch in front of 60,000 to 80,000 people. You are playing for your national team. You are doing interviews. Everybody is watching you. The next day it all stops. You are nothing any more. Nobody talks about you. Here today, gone tomorrow."

"Life is extremely different when you are out of football. There was nothing to focus on any more."

Within the world of football, he found it very difficult to talk about his feelings and emotions. "Who could I turn to? Who could I contact to talk about this?"

Walker is not easily lost for words, but when confronted with his darkest days, the words stop. "I don't know what to say. It was just very depressing."

JonnyWalker-325"My wife could tell that something was wrong and sent me to a doctor. He wrote me a prescription to take some mood-altering medicine. That turned me into a zombie."

"I had lost one of my purposes in life. As a player you constantly set yourself new goals. First you want to become a professional. Then you want to make the first team, become a regular, move abroad, and make the national team."

After his forced retirement, Walker did not have any career goals. "I was only locked-in in my own mind, that is not the place to be."

"It was disappointing that there was no kind of support system for former players once they retired, to help the transition out of the professional sports playing world."

It took Walker three years to recover. He decided to go to university and finish his degree. "That was beneficial to me. I was able to put my mind to something. I had my classes on which to focus."

"I continued to feel better."

Walker earned his college degree and started working at a credit card company, in customer service. Then he got a chance to return to football. To his delight: "I was making a difference again". Currently, Walker is an assistant coach of the Memphis University Lady Tigers.

In his darkest days, he could not watch football. "Now, I enjoy it again."

"I am loving life again."

Walker is one of the many current and former players who endorsed FIFPro's mental health research. "It's very important. I would love to wholeheartedly talk about the experience. It is a horrible feeling."

Walker refers to his personal problems after he retired, but he also mentions the pressure of the game and life as a professional football player. "The general public judges you on 90 minutes only. They don't know about your everyday life."

Walker remembers his days in Chile with Universidad Católica, with whom he won the Apertura championship in 2002. "Several of my team-mates and coaches had played with Raimundo Tupper, who suffered from depression." Tupper was a Chilean international player. He could not deal with the pressure of professional sports and his illness, despite treatment. In 1995, he jumped out of a hotel ... He was only 26. "They often talked about him, he was still loved and missed."

"My advice to players is to find somebody they trust and speak with that person. They must try and find something new to focus on, find a new goal."

"I was fortunate to have a family to rely on. It is very important to have people that love you. They depended on me. I had a purpose, I had a young son. He didn't care about how I felt - he needed me to be at my best."

Also read: Depression Highly Prevalent in Footballers
  Study: Mental Illness In Professional Football
  Chris Jackson: "What is the purpose of living?"

 





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