The Glenn Cunningham Story

WATCH: The Glenn Cunningham Story

This story begins with two boys trapped in a school house fire and nearly burned to death. A tragedy any way you look at it. It happened back in 1916 in a rural town in Kansas. Like most children of that time they walked to school. It was winter, and it was cold. The two brothers made their way down the dirt roads and by chance they arrived at the school early before anyone else. Not even any teachers or staff where there.

When they got to the school it was cold inside, so the older brother took the initiative to light the wood stove that heated the school. He stacked wood inside the firebox. There was kerosene kept near the stove, used to light it and speed up the process of creating a suitable fire. The older brother grabbed the can and added fuel from the can.

What he didn’t realize is that he wasn’t adding kerosene. Kerosene is a slow burning fuel like heating oil. Instead, unbeknownst to him he poured gasoline on wood. When he lit it the whole thing exploded and caught the building on fire. Both boys were alive but, in the smoke and confusion they were trapped inside the building. There were no fire alarms or cellular phones back then, so no one was even aware what was happening, and timing was ticking quickly. Luckily the boy’s sister who had walked to the school with them had waited outside. When she heard the blast and saw the smoke, she rushed inside to save her brothers.

She was able to get them outside to safety, but the boys were badly burned. Despite their injuries, with no other option they made the long walk home. Nine days later the older brother who bore the brunt of the blast succumbed to his injuries and died. Glenn Cunningham survived but he had terrible injuries.

Much of his lower body and legs were badly injured. There was a great deal of flesh and muscle that had been destroyed. At one point the doctor told his mother it might have been better if he died. One thing the doctors were certain of was that Glenn would never walk again.

As the weeks and months went on Glenn began recovering but there was little progress with his legs. Despite the treatment and therapy, he didn’t even have any feeling from the waist down. After a while he was moved from a bed to wheel chair. The doctors made it clear he would never walk again, but that didn’t stop young Glenn from trying. When he would go outside he would practice sliding down out of the chair and pulling himself up on a fence post. His family was upset by this. The told him there was no use trying that no matter what he did he’d never walk again. It was useless to try. Glenn wouldn’t stop. In fact, he repeated this process so many times he wore a path along the fence from dragging himself along so many times.

After a while he was able to stand up, and he kept working little by little every day. Amazingly, despite the doctors telling him it would never happen, and his parents telling him it was useless to try, he was able to walk. It was clumsy at first but after a while he was walking completely on his own. This story would be fairly miraculous if it ended at this point, but the story doesn’t’ end here.

Glenn was able to run. He ran everywhere he could. Later in college he even ran for the track team. Glenn’s specialty was the one-mile run. At that time all the experts said it was humanly impossible to run a mile in less than five minutes. You probably already guessed what Glenn thought of that advice.

In February 1934, in Madison Square Garden, this young man who wasn’t supposed to be alive but did, was told he would never walk but did, would never run but did, broke a record that wasn’t supposed to be broken. Dr. Glenn Cunningham, ran the mile in four minutes and eight seconds, the world's fastest indoor mile! Oh yeah, and he earned his doctorate while he pursued all that.

This young man had two simple things, he had faith and determination. When asked about it he said,

"All along I knew that I had to make the best of whatever came my way". You see Glenn had a few guiding principles that shaped his life and those principles would allow him to achieve quite a few successes in his life. Besides his running accomplishments he also became a doctor. He purchased and owned real estate and went on to establish the Cunningham Youth Ranch for young people from needy and problem-filled backgrounds.

The principles he lived by are principles you can live by too. These principles aren't a magic formula for success, but they are the foundation for it. He believed everything will always work out for the best. From early in his life he faced difficult circumstances, but with the mindset that everything always works out for the best, he gave himself the opportunity to persevere. He also had goals and he didn't let the naysayers affect his dreams. When the doctors said he wouldn't walk he didn't listen. When the experts of the time said it was humanly impossibly to run faster than a five minute mile, he didn't listen. He always did his best no matter what the circumstances, and he had a firm, never quit philosophy. Not only did he possess these characteristics he worked hard to share these same principles. He understood the importance of helping others.

There's one more thing and it's as important as any. He was taught to never complain. That's characteristic that very few people possess, and one of the most important. Name one time in your life any good ever came from complaining? It doesn't. It's a time wasting, attitude killing habit. If you want to become a champion of whatever you do, study champions. You'll find a similar formula. Successful people know the value of faith, goals and determination. Learn these values and you will be successful too.

Christopher Scott is the author of Common Sense and Host of the Christopher Scott Show Talk Radio Podcast.

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