Tackling Mental Health: Former NFL player Adrian Peterson visits students

The students at J.L. Lomax Elementary School had a special visitor Friday, former Chicago Bears running back Adrian N. Peterson.

Author of “Don’t Dis My Abilities,” Peterson spoke to the kids about the importance of education and maintaining mental health. He touched on his battle with his speech impediment and shared details of how he overcame his speech troubles.

Lomax was the first stop of his Tackling Mental Health South Georgia Tour, which was hosted in partnership with the Greater Valdosta United Way by way of a grant from Resilient Georgia.

As for which he prefers, playing on the field or interacting with the youth, Peterson said he chooses the latter.

“I enjoy it. I actually kind of like this a little bit more,” he said of speaking to the students. “What’s a little weird is none of these kids have ever (seen) me play football, but they see me (and) hear my story and instantly you can see their eyes open up, so it’s a little bit more exciting and fulfilling than scoring touchdowns.”

With young kids being teased in schools, Peterson said it can weigh on a person’s mental health. 

He began his speech with the words, “Hard work pays off,” letting the youths know that they can succeed and defeat obstacles. He said he found inspiration to be an example to kids from his older brother.

Friday wasn’t Peterson’s first time in the Azalea City. The former Georgia Southern athlete came a few years ago to visit the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta. 

He said he speaks to the younger generation because “they are the future.” He encourages students to attend school rather than skip it.

“If I can be a role model that inspires and motivates them 2%, then that 2% may aid them,” he said.

The grant from Resilient Georgia, which benefitted the tour, went toward promoting positivity and showing how to overcome challenges, said Michael Smith, executive director of the United Way.

Noting “it’s OK to not be OK,” Smith said it was important to connect with Peterson for the event because, in a city where “football matters,” kids can see someone who has reaped the benefits of working hard and staying dedicated.

Wild Adventures Theme Park donated admission tickets for students. 

Peterson visited Lake Park Elementary and Echols County Elementary schools, as well as the Robert Jenkins Community Center, as part of the tour. He signed sports memorabilia for students.


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