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About the authors

About Willie & Brenda

Willie and Brenda.jpg

Willie Burton was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1995 to a teenage mother who gave him up for adoption to Larry and Brenda Burton through Churchman Chapel in South Louisville. Since Willie suffered from cerebral palsy at birth which severely affected the motor abilities in his legs and right arm as well as his speech, he spent much of his young life enduring surgeries and physical therapy to help minimize the effects of his disabilities.

Those rigorous physical therapies he endured throughout all of his childhood prepared him for what he faced when he signed up to wrestle for Fairdale High School near Louisville. The practices were rigorous but he managed to stay true to his goal of being a wrestler as well as a leader on his team. While he lost every match for nearly four years, through perseverance and focus he eventually won his only match on his Senior Night.

His story of overcoming nearly impossible odds propelled him to prominence when ESPN did an E:60 documentary on his story called WillPower. It was narrated by Dan Gable the famous NCAA and Olympic wrestler. His story of overcoming adversity has resulted in his being honored with a number of awards including the Giant Steps Award from the National Consortium for Academics and Sports. He has also spoken to a number of sports teams and organizations about his motivation and determination to overcome the obstacles placed before him. He is currently enrolled at Campbellsville University, a Christian-based university in Campbellsville, Kentucky, where he is studying Christian and Family Counseling.

Brenda Burton was born and raised in Kentucky and has lived there her entire life. She lived her younger years a bit on the rebellious side but settled down when she was born-again and accepted Jesus Christ into her life. She studied nursing and was an ortho-neuro nurse in Louisville.

She and Larry had no children of their choosing and were married eight years when they accepted the Lord’s direction and adopted Willie. Brenda and Larry were in their early forties, so caring for a special-needs baby was quite a challenge for them. They put all of their efforts into fulfilling their parental duties but eventually divorced when Willie was an adolescent.

Since then, she has been the primary care-giver for Willie, his moral compass, and devoted mother. She is now retired from her profession and she and Willie live in South Louisville.         

About Barry Kienzle


Barry Kienzle was born, raised and educated in Kentucky and is in every sense a Kentucky boy, proud of the state he calls home. He has written two historical fiction award-winning novels, The Crossings and The Indian. He studied Accounting at Northern Kentucky University, is a CPA and has worked primarily in the accounting and finance areas of construction and real estate firms as CFO. He is currently semi-retired and serves on the Foundation Board of Northern Kentucky University as well as the local Advisory Board of Truist Bank  For more info on Barry, visit his website at

About This Book – by Barry Kienzle

My involvement with Willie and Brenda Burton began in 2016 when I was steered their way by an acquaintance who had seen the ESPN E:60 documentary, WillPower, on Willie’s high school wrestling career. Willie’s story is an amazing one of faith and courage, overcoming the many obstacles that allowed him to accomplish his dreams. Now he wanted to tell his story to motivate others to help them overcome the obstacles in their own lives.    


I traveled to Louisville many times to interview Willie and those close to him to get their perspective on him and his life. They included his mother, father, friends, relatives, coaches, teammates, physical therapist, and anyone else who had touched or been touched by Willie in his journey.  

After writing it, and then going through the editing process, we all agreed something was missing – his story is really about him and his mother Brenda, who cared for and nurtured him since he was adopted at birth. She was the rock in his life that allowed him to pursue his dream – to be a wrestler. Without her faith in the Lord which powered her own unyielding strength, Willie’s story most likely would have had a much different outcome. 

So I reinterviewed Brenda without Willie to isolate her impressions on their journey and rewrote the memoir to be both of their stories. The final version became Heart of a Lion – Our Journey of Faith and Courage. I hope it will be as enriching for you as it was for me.   

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