Former Kansas City Chief's player Kendall Gammon overcame a harrowing battle with suicidal thoughts after enduring years of mental and physical abuse from his mom.
He recalls the very moment he sat on his bed with a gun in his hand when he was only 16 years old.
While it may be difficult to recount, he draws on that experience as well as the significant pressures he faced during his 15-year stint in the NFL as a long snapper to help veterans and first responders overcome mental health challenges through his work with War Horses for Veterans.
His work with the Kansas City-based nonprofit has become one of the most rewarding challenges in his life, Gammon told FOX Business.
War Horses for Veterans
War Horses for Veterans, which was founded by a former solider, is dedicated to helping first responders, veterans and active military personnel overcome life-disrupting trauma associated with their work and transition into civilian life through horse-related activities.
The year-round program helps individuals cope with conditions, including different levels of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder so they can successfully reintegrate into their families and communities.
Participants attend for five days and are given an abundance of horse-related tasks, from understanding how to lunge a horse around a round pin to riding bareback. The tasks help these individuals put their trust in a 1,000-pound animal. In doing so, they are able to face their fears and gain confidence.
The organization aims to create a community of "active duty military, combat veterans, first responders and others who support one another as each individual moves from trauma through recovery to a productive and sustainable life," according to its website.
While Gammon wasn't a service member, he is living proof of what it means to be resilient in the face of insurmountable obstacles.
"[I] let them see … the part of my life that a lot of people didn't see, and, quite honestly, that I tried to hide for the longest time," Gammon said.
Navigating challenges, mental health
That includes the trauma from his childhood to the challenges he faced on the field as a player and when he was transitioning into retirement.
His official title is chief development officer, though he is also considered one of the many like-minded coaches and mentors that War Horses for Veterans has to help participants navigate the challenges they face after service.
By talking about his mental health struggles, it allows the participants "to come out and talk about some things that maybe they wouldn't talk about otherwise," he added.
"Many times the biggest thing somebody needs to help heal is just to let it go and talk to somebody else about it," Gammon said. "That's easier said than done for a lot of people. It was easier said than done for me."
Still, he effectively created a safe space for veterans and first responders to open up to him about their own struggles, some of which are so unfathomable it's hard for Gammon to put into words.
"We have a lot of parallels in terms of our mental health and how we deal with things," Gammon said.
Leading with 'laces out'
One of the biggest tools he uses to inspire others, whether that's on the farm or during his keynote speeches, is his mantra of "laces out."
Gammon, who was a long snapper during his tenure with the Chiefs, recalled being one of the first players in the NFL to "really usher in the fact that you snap the ball with the laces out" every time. It prevents the ball from spinning or having someone kick the laces.
He uses this catchphrase to help people from all walks of life strive for success and facilitate success for others. It applies to the participants in the program.
"I lead with the ‘laces out’ … whether it's at the end of a text or an email," Gammon said. "It's basically facilitating the success of others … by me snapping the ball with the laces out. It gives the kicker a better chance to score points, which gives the team a better chance to score points, which gives us a better chance to win."
The point is, Gammon said, that "we all have the ability to do something for somebody else, to snap a ball with the laces out."
"And as I always say, ‘If you treat people like they matter, well, then they do matter.’ And this world becomes just a little bit better place," he added.
It's something he tries to instill in everyone he works with, such as those at War Horses for Veterans.
"I'm trying to affect their mindset in a positive way to where they can help themselves long after I'm there … or there at the program at War Horses out at the ranch," he said.