THE "BIGGEST BLAIR WALSH fan in the Midwest" watched her favorite kicker line up for a game-winning attempt against the Seahawks in a wild-card game on Jan. 10, 2016. When the kick hooked wide left, ending the Vikings' season, 14-year-old Camryn Nasman cried hysterically and punched the floor of the family room in Spooner, Wis. "I had always had a crush on him, so of course I wasn't mad," she says. "But then I went on Facebook and saw how much hate was being thrown at him."
A few days later Camryn spied a television segment on Walsh's visit to Northpoint Elementary, just north of Minneapolis. First-graders there had written him notes of encouragement. One student told Walsh he wished he had made the field goal but loved him anyway. Another called him the "best kicker in the universe," while another told him "better luck next time."
Camryn was impressed with how Walsh blamed no one but himself. "I kicked it," Walsh says. "The ball left my foot. That's on me."
At that point Camryn hadn't told anyone she had been suffering from depression. That's partly why she connected so deeply with Walsh, because she, too, dealt with bullies and online hatred. Her mother, Rikki Pardun, knew that Camryn struggled with anxiety, but she only found out about her daughter's depression four months after the missed kick, in May 2016, when a guidance counselor called from school, patching her and Camryn into a suicide hotline. Camryn had told the counselor she planned to kill herself that night.
Pardun then made the toughest decision of her life, committing Camryn to a hospital for a week. When Vikings camp started in July, Camryn begged her mom to take her to a practice, where she filled out three postcards for Walsh. Under the heading "Good luck/This season I hope you ... " Camryn wrote "... continue to inspire people like me everyday. Last year I developed depression because I cared so much about what people thought about me. Thoughts like harming myself flooded my head and I began to self harm.... The whole world seemed to be against you, but you had the most positive attitude ever. You inspired me and I stopped cutting.... You're the reason I didn't give up."
Walsh learned what she had written midway through the season, after he had missed two field goals in the opener and two more in the first eight games. He also failed to convert three extra points over that stretch.
Camryn continued to struggle too. One day in September she collected as many pills as she could find and threw them in a bag. She says she planned to swallow them the next morning, but when she woke up that day, she had a voice mail from the Vikings. Walsh wanted to meet with her.
They met at the team offices a month later. Walsh didn't want to overstate what he had been through. His struggle could not compare to her depression. "But if I could help change how she viewed herself, that would be huge," Walsh says.
A month later the Vikings released Walsh. As some fans continued to ridicule him online, he tried to remain positive. So did Camryn. She'd write whenever she thought of harming herself, and the words spilled into pages and pages. Eventually they became a book. She decided to self-publish what she had written—The Girl Behind the Smile (available at createspace.com)—and spare none of the uncomfortable details. "She started to feel like she had a purpose," her mom says.
The man who shanked the Vikings' playoff kick against Seattle walked into the Seahawks office in January, almost exactly a year after the miss. He signed a contract with Seattle, of all teams.
"I'm fortunate," Walsh says.
"I'm lucky," Camryn says.
There's no neat ending here. Walsh won't make every kick this season. Camryn's depression wasn't magically cured. But both faced something difficult and sought help, drawing strength from one another.
"The whole world seemed to be against you, but you had the most positive attitude. You inspired me. You're the reason I didn't give up," Camryn wrote to Walsh.
HAS AN ATHLETE EVER HELPED YOU THROUGH A DIFFICULT TIME?
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