Kindling Strides On Charred Legs
While most lives are just beginning at the age of seven Glenn Cunningham’s life almost ended. He and his brother Floyd and several siblings attended a one room school. If the Cunningham kids happened to get to the school first which often happened they were allowed to light up the coal stove to keep everyone warm on cold winter days. This blustery January day was one of those. Floyd went into the room and poured the kerosine into the stove. The coals were still hot from a town meeting the night before. Apparently someone had also switched the kerosine labeled can with gasoline A gigantic explosion occurred and Floyd was right in the middle of it. The flames badly burned both of Glenn’s legs as he was watching his brother near the door. When the doctor finally examined both of them Floyd’s condition was hopeless. It was speculated that Glenn would probably live if infection didn’t set in, but would never walk again. His legs were burned so badly the doctor said they would be useless for the rest of his life. Glenn did not want to be a burden to his family. When he happened to overhear a neighbor telling his mother to face the facts he would be an invalid the rest of his life, a determination set in to his little body. Tearfully he told his mother “I’ll walk!” “I’ll walk”. Glenn made the decision that no matter how much it hurt he would walk again! When he needed courage he would repeat those words “I’ll walk!”
“My family was wonderful. I can’t even imagine how horrible it must have been with all the smells and the sight of my rotting flesh”, Glenn recalled. “I had lost all of the flesh on my knees and shins, as well as all the toes on my left foot. My transverse arch was mostly gone, yet my family kept changing the dressing and massaging my legs, though there was little muscle and sinew left to massage.”
In time the massaging and dressing of his legs showed some improvement in them. Still it was such a slow process. When he was finally able to get up it was like learning to walk all over again. His legs felt twisted and his first steps were with the assistance of a kitchen chair. Slowly he would push it in front of him as he tried to push back the pain with every tiny step. Each day he continued this process until his weak legs could do no more. His goal was to do just a little more than the previous day. He progressed to the point that he was making his way outside and walking along the fence to keep him upright. He seemed to walk crooked on his twisted legs but he was happy with his progress. Being on a farm he progressed in time to grabbing the tail of the family mules as they went for water. As the mules ambled along he tried to keep the pace. Another challenge was playing with his siblings as much as he could. As he slowly improved his dad assigned him with chores around the farm. While most kids did their chores grudgingly, Glenn was very happy to feel useful and did his chores with love!
It is amazing what God can do with determination and hard work. As his walking improved Glenn was now attempting to run. Ten year old kids did a lot of running and Glenn was determined to keep up. When he walked he described the pain as daggers in his feet. Amazingly when he ran the pain was a lot less. He got to the point where everywhere he went he ran! He also continued to stretch and massage his legs. His healing was coming from the movement exercise initiated and the increased blood flow his massages provided!
As farmers trying to make a living in difficult times Glenn’s family moved around a lot. He found himself in another small town about a mile from the school. Instead of bringing his lunch like the other kids Glenn ran the mile home each day. He figured it was good for his legs and he was delighted that he was able each day!
One day he saw a race advertised in the downtown store window. Unknown to his family he entered the race and won. I showed up at the track meet in my work clothes and thick soled canvas sneakers. I was a fourth grader, and most of the others were high school athletes. All of them wore running shorts and spiked running shoes. I must have looked like David lined up against all of the giants, but I won going away!” The race gave Glenn great confidence in what he could do and made him even more determined to be a great runner!
The two big goals that Glenn had were to be a doctor like his grandfather, and to run in the Olympics. Glenn was slow with his academics. He found himself behind because he missed a whole year in his schooling. It seemed like a long shot that he would ever be able to go to college. However the confidence that he gained from running again carried over to his academics too. He was so determined to catch up that he spent hours on his studying! When his family moved back to Elkhart, Indiana he made extra time for his studies even while working! Amazingly with scarred legs and no toes on his left foot Glenn played football in high school! Only those close to him knew of the hardship he was conquering! He was able to compete so well that nobody would have known the extra burden that he carried!
In time Glenn made it to college. He refused a scholarship as he decided to work his way through! He didn’t want to owe anyone for something that meant so much to him! Glenn went out for the track team and his great speed got the attention of the coach. He ran distance races and it was thought that he might be the first man to ever break the four minute mile. In 1932 and 1936 he accomplished his dream of competing in the Olympics! In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin he won the Silver medal in the 1500 meter run! In 1938 he ran a personal best mile of four minutes and four seconds! He retired in 1940 when the Olympics were cancelled because of the war. Many consider him to this day the greatest miler who ever lived!
Eventually it seemed that there was a reason Glenn lived through the fire mishap. It seems that God had a plan for his life for future years! Glenn 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 in great demand as a motivational speaker. “My mother and father brought us up to never complain. Through the years I often talked about overcoming challenges, but I just always figured that I needed to do my best and never quit. Complaining about something I had no control over would have diminished what I was trying to do. I just wanted to let my running speak for itself.”
Not only did Glenn profess his Christianity he lived it! His favorite scripture was Isaiah 40:31: “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. Usually that verse is meant for the afterlife when we get out of our frail bodies and into our heavenly ones! In Glenn’s case God took a frail, tired, burned body and used it for his purpose! Even as the doctor was declaring Glenn’s legs useless, God was putting a determination in Glenn’s spirit! It was a resolve to never quit and to believe that all things are possible! God renewed Glenn’s strength and lifted him up on eagles wings as he ran without getting weary on charred legs!