Glenn Cunningham was just 7 years old when he nearly died in an explosion that killed his brother. He had gone to his one-room schoolhouse on the Indiana prairie with his several siblings one cold January morning. Finding the school empty and cold, Glenn’s brother Floyd started to light a fire in the small coal stove. Floyd didn’t know the stove had some hot coals in it from the previous night’s community meeting, or that the Kerosene can really contain gasoline. Fire exploded out of the stove as soon as Floyd began pouring the fuel. Flames burned Floyd terribly and reached Glenn’s legs as he stood nearby. They both ran the two miles home through the snow and were put to bed while the other children went to find their mother.

The doctor that attended Glenn and Floyd told their parents that Floyd would not live – the burns were too severe. But Glenn would probably live unless infection set in. Either way, the doctor warned the family that Glenn would never walk again. His legs were useless now. But Glenn didn’t want to be a burden on his family. After overhearing a neighbor tell his mother to face the fact that he would be an invalid for the rest of his life, Glenn made an important decision. He would walk again. Fortunately, his mother believed him when he tearfully told her this. And Glenn resolved to walk again, no matter how much it hurts or how hard it was to do. He would repeat, “I’ll walk!  I’ll walk,” whenever he’d lose courage.

After his legs healed, Glenn started to work on walking. His first hurdle was standing, then moving. He would stand up, holding onto a kitchen chair, pushing it slowly before him.  He called that ‘walking’ and practiced until he was too tired to continue. Later he got outside and walked along the fence, holding on, so he didn’t fall. His legs were twisted, and he seemed to walk ‘crooked.’ He was just glad he was walking! His favorite scripture was: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.[1]

Soon he was grabbing the tail of the family mule when they went for water. He’d try to stay up with the mule as he strolled along. And he’d play with his siblings however he could. When he was able to go outdoors, his dad assigned him chores again. It was great for Glenn to be useful!  Glenn was walking! Now he set his sights to running. After all, he wasn’t yet 10 years old and running as part of being a kid, part of playing with friends. Besides, it hurt less to run than walk. Glenn said that walking felt like daggers in his feet, running felt better. All the while, Glenn kept massaging his scarred, twisted legs and continued to try to run. If his legs were stretched out by massaging first, he could run pretty well. His legs didn’t seem so twisted, and only infrequently would they just give out from under him.

Glenn’s family moved a lot as they tried to make a living as farmers. After moving to another small town, he found himself a mile from the school. Most kids that lived that far brought lunch, but Glenn ran home to eat. That was good for his legs. Glenn cemented in his mind that he wanted to become a doctor like his grandfather and that he wanted to run in the Olympics. He had some trouble with his schoolwork and getting credit for 4th grade, and missed all of the 5th grade after they moved to Colorado. His hopes of going to college to become a doctor were a longshot. But nevertheless, he had been walking, and now he was running! He kept his hopes alive, and when they moved back to Elkhart, Indiana, he got back into his studies even while working.

Amazingly, with no toes on his left foot and scarred legs, Glenn also played on his high school football team! He enjoyed all sports, knowing that with some massage and stretching, he could now do what most other kids did – run and play! His rehabilitation amazed everyone, but Glenn didn’t make a big deal out of it. Most people didn’t even realize he conquered so much to be there.

Glenn made it to college, refusing to accept a scholarship to attend. Instead, he worked his way through. He didn’t want to owe anyone anything. He ran on the track team, gaining the attention of the coach. Glenn ran so fast that they thought he’d be able to break the 4-minute mark. His best time was 4:04 set in 1938. Remember that Roger Bannister finally broke the 4-minute mile in 1954. Glenn ran in the 1932 Los Angeles and in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as he had dreamed as a boy. He won Silver in the 1500-meter race in Berlin. He retired from running in 1940 after the Olympics were canceled due to the war. Many still consider him the most significant American miler of all time.

Eventually, he became a doctor, married and raised a family of 10 children. He and his wife created a home for wayward boys that helped thousands of boys with dashed dreams reach them. For years he was a motivational speaker. So, we can see how the power of God’s Word can work when that power is tapped into with resolve and commitment. As the Apostle Paul so courageously said, “I can do all things through the power of Christ who gives me the strength.”[2] – Dr. Robert R Seyda

[1] Isaiah 40:31

[2] Philippians 4:13

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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