[Photo courtesy of Penn State Athletics]
Faith and lessons from the gridiron serve as guiding forces that help Curt Warner navigate through life’s many personal and professional challenges.
It might be hard to believe that it has been 26 years since the father of four and businessman last took a handoff as a running back in the National Football League. Following a career at Penn State in which he was a two-time All-American, Warner rushed for nearly 7,000 yards and totaled 63 touchdowns in an eight-year career spent mostly with the Seattle Seahawks, who selected him No. 1 overall in 1983.
When he was finished eluding tacklers on the gridiron Warner was the one doing the chasing, seeking the business of others, first as an automobile dealership owner in Vancouver, Wash. for nearly 20 years and now as an agent with Farmers Insurance in Beaverton, Ore.
As Warner built his post-playing career, he and his wife, Ana, had three children of their own and adopted a fourth. Two of their children, 22-year-old twins Austin and Christian, are autistic. That lent itself another opportunity about a decade ago with the founding of the Curt Warner Autism Foundation, an endeavor they ultimately had to relinquish due to time demands.
“At one time you did not hear a lot about autism,” said Warner, a resident of Camas, Wash., about half hour’s drive outside Portland. “There is more awareness and understanding of it now. We wanted to do something to give back to the community and do something from a non-profit perspective. Having two boys with autism we didn’t have enough time (to continue with the foundation) because they literally take up a lot of your time.”
Their condition has not prevented Austin and Christian from working. Both are employed in Vancouver by SEH America, which is part of a Tokyo-based company that is the largest producer of semiconductor silicon in the world. An employer service provides them with assistance.
“There are different degrees of autism,” said Warner, who will be 56 in March. “On a spectrum of one to ten they are probably somewhere in the middle. They are functional, but they need assistance on a number of fronts. They are limited, but they can still get out and do things. They are working and we are very pleased that they have something to do. They have an occupation, a job that keeps them busy.”
The Warners are also parents to Jonathan, who graduated his father’s alma mater last year and was a receiver for the Nittany Lions in 2013. He works with a sports radio station in Portland. They also have a 10-year-old adopted daughter, Isabella.
It is the twins’ needs that have kept Curt and Ana busy with the constant care that is required. Things are better now that they are older, but the need for assistance is always present.
“It is less challenging now than it was earlier, but it never goes away,” said Warner. “It is to what degree you are being challenged. Until there is a cure where there is no longer any type of behavior issue, sensory issue or whatever issue you may be dealing with at the time, it will never go away.”
Nine years ago the family faced a major challenge when they had to rebuild their home after it was accidentally set ablaze by one of the twins. While there was significant damage the good news was nobody was harmed.
Whether it is something as devastating as losing the family home or simply his day-to-day activities as an insurance agent, Warner’s strong sense of faith is something he constantly summons in order to forge ahead and maintain perspective.
“My Christian faith is extremely important in dealing with life, its ups and downs and where the focus belongs,” he said. “Life has been a learning experience on a number of fronts. Faith teaches forgiveness, respect and humility and on and on with regards to how we should live and how we deal with others.”
Warner also applies many of the qualities that he learned through football. Discipline, teamwork, dedication, paying attention to details and striving to get better are every bit a part of his makeup today as when he was toting the pigskin.
“I think the thing that stuck with me most was coach (Joe) Paterno had his Grand Experiment,” said the 2009 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, who is second all-time at Penn State in both career rushing (3,398) and all-purpose yards (4,982). “You learn how to practice a certain way, you are going to play some great football and against some great teams. You understand the importance of going to class and being a participant in the classroom. More importantly, you are going to be a good citizen. You learn to conduct yourself as a citizen in a way that is respectable toward the football team, the university, et cetera. Those are the things that you carry with you.”
Another thing Warner carries with him are the teachings of his role models. They were not star running backs that came before him in the NFL or headline-grabbing entertainers. The West Virginia native, who was adopted, grew up idolizing his parents, teachers and, frankly, those whose lives he connected with most every day.
“We didn’t make it as much about celebrities as much as we made it about people in the community and what they stood for,” he said. “Things have changed on that front, I think, enormously.”
Speaking of how times have changed Warner spoke to Football Matters on National Signing Day. His experience was nothing like the pomp and circumstance that is carried out through television and social media today. He appreciates how the kids are enjoying the moment and part of the advice Warner would give a young man on the cusp of going to college to play football is to enjoy it, but also understand there are other things to consider when arriving on campus.
“The tough part is them seeing the overall picture,” he said. “I guess my advice is that at some point it is going to end. You can’t play the game forever. Play as long as you can and enjoy it as much as you can while respecting the game and respecting the rules. Then be prepared to move on when it’s done.”
Curt Warner did that very nicely.