MCRD PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Kurt Warner met the perfect woman his senior year in college at Northern Iowa. He wanted to be a professional football player. She was a former Marine, divorced with two children, in school to become a nurse to take care of her disabled son. She was everything he needed.
Brenda Warner will admit it took the stout St. Louis Rams quarterback some time to get up the nerve to propose.
They dated for five years, but she said it was time they needed to grow individually, and to push each other toward excellence.
Now, they make it part of their lives to share that drive to excel with others through motivation and ministry.
While at Parris Island Feb. 11, the Warner's took time out from their vacation to give something back to the Corps. After touring the Depot, they sat down with recruits and Marines from the Special Training Company for a bit of motivated ministry.
They use their stories of turmoil and success to drive others to excellence.
Brenda had left the Marine Corps on a hardship discharge in January 1990. Her ex-husband had dropped her son Zack on his head, leaving him handicapped and partially blind. Doctors told the young corporal to say her goodbyes to her son, but instead she turned the drive and determination she learned as a Marine toward helping him survive, and together with her infant daughter Jesse, she took Zack home to live.
By the time Kurt came along in 1992, Zack had outlived the doctors' expectations by two years. Now, with a new partner in Kurt, Brenda turned her Marine Corps-born dedication and determination to drive Kurt to his dream of playing big league ball.
Today, he is a star quarterback with two MVP awards and six seasons in the NFL. Together with Brenda's two children, they have added Kade, 4, and Jada, 2, to their family. To them, they are force multipliers.
"He is an incredible person on his own," said Brenda during their vacation visit to Parris Island. "He sets goals very high. I just encourage him to give it all he's got and never hold anything back. That is what the Marine Corps taught me ... no matter what you do ... give it all you've got. Be the best you can be, and don't do anything halfway."
Still, Kurt is quick to recognize Brenda's achievements in their family.
"The spirit of excellence she got from the Marines," began Kurt, reflecting on Brenda's contributions to his success. "It taught her to be more than she ever thought she could be. It taught her to excel ... to push herself beyond the limits she thought she had. It's those same things that I see in her that I try to instill in my own life and in our marriage and in the lives our children."
"In the real world everyone wants to excel, but at the expense of everyone else," said Kurt. "That is what is so great about being here at Parris Island. To excel, everyone has to excel together. In football, that is the goal. We have plenty of people though who say, 'I'm good enough,' but that doesn't cut it. You never get pushed to greatness that way."
Kurt reminded the recruits and Marines that he had faced a few injuries and setbacks. He took them back to his days at the Green Bay Packers training camp after college, and getting let go after six weeks. After that, he played in the Arena Football League before finally taking a chance going back to the NFL, where he was named Most Valuable Player twice in three years.
This season he is again on the injured list, but Kurt keeps going back to that drive to excel as a means to rise up again. The time off is also giving the Warner's time to focus on their Christian-based charity foundation called First Things First.
"The Lord has blessed us," said Kurt to BMP Marines about his family, his career and their ministry. "He showed us what he wants us to be. When we come together, you have my story, Brenda's story, and our family's story, so we can connect with a wide range of people. God put us here to make a change in the world."
For Brenda, the foundation is a place to put her Corps-learned excellence, along with the compassion she learned raising her son, to affect change through charity.
"Just like each Marine has a "possibility" to change the world ... as a unit they "can" change the world. With our foundation, we want to do that. We want to change the world ... we want to show them God has a plan for their life ... we want to affect change ... we want to reach out and make a difference."
They not only minister to others, they raise their children to do the same. Within the Warner family, there are no mansions or fancy cars. There is no extravagance except in charity and kindness.
"We are raising our children to be world changers, to learn what God wants them to be and to be the best," said Brenda of their drive within the foundation. "I love it. It is a challenge and this stems from the Marine Corps teaching me to be the best person I can be."
The Warner's oldest daughter, Jesse, doesn't doubt where her mom gets her drive, after their visit through recruit training.
"I can't believe she did it," said an awestruck 11-year-old Jesse, watching the recruits in training. "I didn't know she had gone through anything like this. She's strong, but I didn't know she was this strong. She is very disciplined at home, but not this disciplined."
As the Corps values Marines, the community values those who serve and return to the community.
Kurt is definitive about Brenda's wish that she could have remained in the Corps, but appreciates the qualities she retained after returning to civilian life. Brenda is not blind to the effects of the training on helping her through life either.
"I cherish the title of Marine," she said. "Every time I carry myself, I carry myself with the ideals and character the Marine Corps gave me to be better at all I do and show me that the world is bigger than my little world ... that I am a part of a bigger whole, and I want to make it better."