The little country schoolhouse was heated by an old-fashioned, pot-bellied coal stove. A little boy named Glenn had the job of coming to school early each day to start the fire and warm the room before his teacher and his classmates arrived.
One morning they arrived to find the schoolhouse engulfed in flames. They dragged the unconscious little boy out of the flaming building more dead than alive. He had major burns over the lower half of his body and was taken to a nearby county hospital.
From his bed the dreadfully burned, semi-conscious little boy faintly heard the doctor talking to his mother. The doctor told his mother that her son would surely die – which was for the best, really – for the terrible fire had devastated the lower half of his body.
But the brave boy didn’t want to die. He made up his mind that he would survive. Somehow, to the amazement of the physician, he did survive. When the mortal danger was past, he again heard the doctor and his mother speaking quietly. The mother was told that since the fire had destroyed so much flesh in the lower part of his body, it would almost be better if he had died, since he was doomed to be a lifetime cripple with no use at all of his lower limbs.
Once more the brave boy made up his mind. He would not be a cripple. He would walk. But unfortunately from the waist down, he had no motor ability. His thin legs just dangled there, all but lifeless.
Ultimately he was released from the hospital. Every day his mother would massage his little legs, but there was no feeling, no control, nothing. Yet his determination that he would walk was as strong as ever.
When he wasn’t in bed, he was confined to a wheelchair. One sunny day his mother wheeled him out into the yard to get some fresh air. This day, instead of sitting there, he threw himself from the chair. He pulled himself across the grass, dragging his legs behind him.
He worked his way to the white picket fence bordering their lot. With great effort, he raised himself up on the fence. Then, stake by stake, he began dragging himself along the fence, resolved that he would walk. He started to do this every day until he wore a smooth path all around the yard beside the fence. There was nothing he wanted more than to develop life in those legs.
Ultimately through his daily massages, his iron persistence and his resolute determination, he did develop the ability to stand up, then to walk haltingly, then to walk by himself – and then – to run.
He began to walk to school, then to run to school, to run for the sheer joy of running. Later in college he made the track team.
Still later in Madison Square Garden this young man who was not expected to survive, who would surely never walk, who could never hope to run – this determined young man, Dr. Glenn Cunningham, ran the world’s fastest mile**!
**On June 16, 1934, Glenn Cunningham ran the mile in 4:06.8 minutes, breaking the world’s record. His effort portrays that whatever you want to create in your life is yours for the making. As long as you desire it enough and allow your will to guide you, you can have and be whatever your heart desires. The only one that can put limits on our personal will is ourselves. Develop and encourage your will to create and all the forces of nature within and without will help you bring your desire to pass.
- 8 years old, was horribly burned in a schoolhouse fire. Doctors predicted he would never walk again.
- 22 months later, took his first steps and through sheer determination, learned to run despite the pain.
- In high school, set records for the mile and later attended Kansas University.
- While at Kansas, refused all scholarship money, preferring to pay his own way.
- By sophomore year, ran the 1,500 meter race at the 1932 Olympics, but finished fourth due to a severe cold.
- By senior year, set a world record for the mile of 4:06.8 and held seven of the top 13 fastest recorded times for the mile.
- In 1936, voted “Most Popular Athlete” by his fellow athletes.
- He went on to earn a master’s degree from University of Iowa and later a doctorate from New York University.
- While in New York, won 21 of 31 races at Madison Square Gardens and set an indoor mile record there in 1938. His fastest mile time was 4:04.4 at a Dartmouth track meet in 1938.
- When the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, he retired from his running career and taught at Cornell College in Iowa.
- During World War II, he served two years in the Navy.
- Spent the remainder of his life running the Glenn Cunningham Youth Ranch for troubled kids in Kansas, USA. It is estimated that he and his wife raised around 9,000 kids on their ranch in the years until his death in 1988.