We thought you’d enjoy this post/podcast that we recorded many years ago with Brenda Warner, wife of famed NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, who is being portrayed along with her husband in the new film, American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story. Here she talks to Stacey about her moving memoir, One Call Away, on the challenges, tragedies and faith that got her through the tough times. The movie opened in theaters on Christmas day, 2021.
By Stacey Gualandi/2012
A husband cheats. A son is left with brain damage after an accident. A mother and father are killed in a tornado. A divorced single mom is forced to live on food stamps. A Marine marries a soon-to-be Super Bowl champion. It sounds like the plot of a typical Hollywood script, but it’s actually one woman’s real life.
“I realized while writing my memoir that I was always one call away from that phone call that changed my life in a split second.” –Brenda Warner
In her poignant memoir, “One Call Away,” Brenda Warner recounts her life – the blessings as well as the tragedies – and how faith and her family have helped pull her through the most difficult of life’s challenges. She is the wife of NFL superstar-turned-television host Kurt Warner, but now this 44-year-old former Marine is fast becoming a star in her own right.
She is a sought after motivational speaker, a best-selling author, and a tireless supporter of those in need through the First Things First Foundation she and Kurt began 10 years ago. And she does this while raising seven kids!!!
I’m not quite sure how she found the time to talk with me on “The Women’s Eye Radio Show”, but I feel blessed that she did…
EYE: Is there one word that describes how you deal with all the ups and downs in your life?
BRENDA: Well not in one word, but I just don’t get upset about the little things and that keeps me sane I think. My house will never be always clean; the dishes won’t always be done; the laundry will always be there. I just try not to get upset by those things and embrace the joy of the moments with the kids.
EYE: Your book is a real page-turner; I couldn’t put it down! It was amazing that this is the story of one woman’s life. Why did you want to write this?
BRENDA: It all started with arguing with my teenage daughter. It’s difficult. We were buttin’ heads and she kept asking me: “Why are you like this? Why do you think this way?” So I wanted to explain why I’m strong in some areas and why I push for things, and I wanted to share my story with all the kids. Once you put it on paper, no one can take it away, and they’re stories you don’t normally share with your kids when you write your memoir.
“If you can learn from someone else, go ahead and do it. It will make your path that much easier.”
It’s all out there and they know my truth. When my 19-year-old daughter — who’s a gifted kid who is going to change the world — read it, she cried. She couldn’t believe all the details of my life, and I think she did understand me better. We haven’t fought as much. Someday, all of my kids will be able to understand me better.
EYE: In the process, you are changing readers’ lives too by sharing similar experiences…
BRENDA: A lot of women are relating to it, which makes me sad because it just shows how hard life is on everyone. But when they read my story, it amazes me how many people tell me they laughed out loud. They cried deeply, and they just felt like if she can make it through this, then I can make it through my things.
And that makes it worth it. I’m already through it, so why not share it. I share how I messed up, how I did it right, just the different areas in my life where I needed to call on my faith, and to stand strong.
EYE: What do you mean by “one call away”?
BRENDA: I realized while writing my memoir that I was always one call away from that phone call that changed my life in a split second. When you answer that phone, you don’t know what the news is going to be. It could change your life in a positive way or it could change it in a horrible way.
And you really don’t have control of what’s on the other end, but you do have control of how you answer it and what you do from then on. So in my life, I’ve received phone calls that almost took me out. I share how I was one call away, but also that my faith and my God was one call away to help me through it…not get me out of it, but get me through it.
EYE: One of your first difficult calls had to do with your son Zack…
BRENDA: I was serving as a U.S. Marine, and one morning I left my healthy 4-month-old son Zack home with my [first] husband. I kissed him goodbye and then I got a call that something had happened. In a split second, my husband had accidentally dropped him while picking him up out of the bathtub and then suddenly we were fighting for his life.
They said he wasn’t going to make it. Every moment, you stand on what you believe, make promises to God, you do anything you have to. I never got my miracle.
Zack kept on living but he never completely healed. He still has a traumatic brain injury and is legally blind. But I did eventually get a miracle, and I share that in my book.
Sometimes our miracles don’t look exactly as we thought they’d look. He blesses my life so much and gives us all perspective. When Kurt won the Super Bowl, he called Zack to tell him, and Zack said, “Hurry up, I’m watching “Veggie Tales” and hung up. Ha!
“The one thing that is closest to my heart is single moms with special needs children.”
EYE: Was there anyone in particular that you were you writing this book for? Parents of special needs kids, those who are grieving, single moms…?
BRENDA: I think a lot of different people could relate to different parts of my life whether it’s serving our country or standing in line for food stamps and low income housing or being a divorced mother of two who was cheated on by her first husband; both men and women can relate to that.
The one that is closest to my heart is single moms with special needs children because they don’t know how to be that parent, and they had to learn on the fly like I did. Yet they have a strength that they’ll find because they get their eyes off themselves and see that child as a blessing in ways that they couldn’t have seen before.
“Everyone said it would be tough to be a female Marine. But I loved it.”
EYE: Why did you want to be a Marine? Once a marine, always a marine?
BRENDA: Oh, yes. Kurt never knew me as a Marine. He couldn’t believe that I would ever take an order from a man. Ha! My dad would tell me stories about being in the Marine Corps, and I was always drawn to that. I wanted a challenge in my life that was different than everyone else. I just felt something inside me that called me to the Corps. Everyone said it would be tough to be a female Marine. But I loved it. I knew when I joined that I belonged.
EYE: You were discharged from the Corps because of marriage troubles and taking care of Zack. What did you learn as a Marine?
BRENDA: What I learned as a Marine was to live with honor, courage and integrity. That carried me through as a single mom living on food stamps. I was still living the same way but it just looked different. I want women to get that your circumstances don’t determine who you are. It gave me strength that I knew I could do anything.
I didn’t need a man in my life anymore; I could be complete on my own. And who knew that later on I would marry a football player who became famous which allowed us to help Marines coming back from war at Walter Reed? If I had stayed in the Corps, I wouldn’t have gotten that opportunity. You have to look at the burden and the blessings together. You don’t get one without the other.
EYE: You went through your first husband cheating on you, then the horrific, devastating loss of your parents in a tornado!!! How do you not lose faith? I would have!
BRENDA: I know what you’re saying. There were moments where I was angry. I was angry at God for not stopping that tornado. This God that I believe in can do all things so why didn’t he stop it? Why didn’t he give me at least one parent? But I was honest in my prayers, calling out to Him, because I was at the end where I had no more tears.
I had two kids looking at me asking. “What is going on?” Again, you have to do what you have to do. If was difficult, but that’s when you truly find out what you believe.
EYE: You have amazing faith. But why did you have to deal with all of these tragedies? You have a laundry list…
BRENDA: True, but it takes one second to take your eyes off yourself and find someone who suffers more than you. Suffering doesn’t make sense to me other than we’re not in Heaven yet. That will be the difference. Then there won’t be suffering.
We’re in this missed up world where He’s still comforting me, giving me strength, and He has a plan for my life but we’re not in Heaven yet. I bet my life on it, and either you go through life with Him, or you go without Him. But trust me. The stuff that I’ve had to go through, I can’t imagine going through it without Him.
EYE: You and Kurt are definitely a team. Now at this point, do people ask him, “Aren’t you Brenda Warner’s husband?”
BRENDA: Haha. Not even close. I definitely married up. He did not. I know the kind of man I married and can understand why people are drawn to him, and why they are such huge fans. He never ceases to amaze me. People ask me when will I find my Kurt Warner?
When he met me, I was 25, divorced with two kids, one who was brain damaged and blind; he was 21 and wanted to be a football star. But there is something about waiting for the man who deserves you. I waited to find someone who was as good as my dad.
“I’m grateful that I found a man who doesn’t care if I like football. I like him.”
EYE: He’s a good dancer too….
BRENDA: He’s all right… hahaha! We met while dancing, so when “Dancing with the Stars” called, we said great! But we haven’t danced since.
EYE: You have said that you have many titles. But one title you never thought truly described you was “wife of an NFL player”…correct?
BRENDA: Exactly. When I said I do, he wasn’t playing in the NFL. I don’t like football. I’m 44 and I still don’t like football. I’m grateful that I found a man who doesn’t care if I like football. I like him. And will support him.
It’s not one of my titles because what it does is it brings a preconceived idea that I have to break down. I will do it given the chance but sometimes you’re not given the chance.
EYE: You have become a sought after public speaker. What are the Women of Faith events that you are involved in?
BRENDA: There are all these women from all walks of life, from all kinds of faith backgrounds, some with no faith backgrounds, coming together in an arena and singing, dancing, and having a great time for a girls’ weekend. We use our life stories to share about our tragedies and the good times.
We have seven different decades represented. That’s incredible to me. Just to think about all the wisdom, excitement and energy. It’s just a lot of fun, and it’s changing all the time. I’m having a blast, and I can’t believe they allow me to be apart of it.
EYE: Happy Anniversary on your First Things First Foundation. What exactly does your foundation do?
BRENDA: Well, just because of all the things I’ve been through, and all the times we needed help, we decided to start a foundation that would go back to all the places we have been. We help single moms get a home. We take families who have children who’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness to Disneyland and Disney World for a week every year.
We get to hang out with these families and give them encouragement because I was given no hope with my son Zack. Sometimes these vacations are the first they’ve taken as a family and sometimes it’s their last. It’s been a privilege to figure out ways to have hands-on experience with people and to give them hope.
“My number one goal is to raise children who are going to change this world…”
EYE: What is your ultimate life goal?
BRENDA: My number one goal is to raise children who are going to change this world and make a difference in ways that people haven’t thought of; to touch people’s lives in creative, beautiful ways, so that’s my goal as a mother of seven; to be able to see it come about and to see their joy in getting their eyes off themselves and helping other people.
All these other things like speaking, writing a book, the foundation, are just extra blessings. I feel like someone needs to pinch me! It’s such a privilege. I’ll do it my way, along the way.
EYE: Any more kids?
BRENDA: I am so done! I am so done!! Hahaha…
EYE: Thanks, Brenda. You continue to inspire.
Photos: Courtesy of Thomas Nelson, Publisher