The Glenn Cunningham Story
I took four different articles or stories and combined them into story form about this former Olympian long distance runner. The news touts Bolt as the fastest man but I want to correct that: he is the fastest sprinter. I just happen to admire long distance runners, including my son who runs as a means to maintain his health. Cunningham ran to get his healthy legs back and in the meantime, won a silver medal in the 1936 Olympics. Here’s his story.
The Glenn Cunningham Story
A runner of Olympic proportion and a Christian who overcame the obstacle of potential invalid
An eight-year old boy in Kansas lay in a bed of pain. His legs burned to the bone in places and toes were missing from his left foot. When he came to consciousness all he asked about though was his brother, Floyd. “Is Floyd here?” The solemn faces of his father, Clint, and mother Rosa, told him the sad news. Floyd had died in the sudden explosive fire that cold morning in 1916.
Little was known on how to treat such severe burns other than amputation. When little Glenn Cunningham heard the hushed discussion about treatment, he stubbornly said “No.”. He would walk again.
Weeks passed and his lifeless legs refused to allow much circulation, but from time to time Glenn recognized pain and his parents took turns with massage therapy to return blood flow and healing. Day after day Glenn tried to stand to only collapse on the floor. The first day he felt sensation as he stood he yelped with delight “I can feel the floor!” and his father dropped to the floor with him in excitement. Slowly, so very slowly he began to walk. It took a long two years of rehabilitation. Cunningham determination reaped rich rewards. He kept his legs. He walked. Eventually he ran!
Since Glenn knew now from experience that movement was a key to his return to ambulation, he began to push himself to faster movement and discovered that running would be a key element to his future. Glenn was not ashamed to claim Isaiah 40:31 as his favorite Bible verse: “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
By the time Cunningham reached the age of 12 he could outrun even the high school runners in his town. His form was not sleek and smooth, but he had endurance and speed. He never walked when he could run. When he walked, he could hide his limp.
His love of running started as a way to regain health but it went so much further. From Cunningham’s first race at the Morton County Fair in 1923 which he won without much contest, to his college days at Kansas University, and on to the 1932 and 1936 Olympics, Glenn Cunningham continued to amass running records in the world. His fastest running record was accomplished in 1938 running the mile in 4:04.4. He brought home the Silver medal in the 1936 Olympics where he was narrowly outrun by a New Zealander.
His mile running record was not betters by another American until 1966. Just think of those doctors who wanted to amputate his legs and think of how well he could have run if he had possessed toes on his left foot!
Although Cunningham could have made a name for himself and bundles of money as a star athlete, instead he used his academic degrees to teach and later, he founded the Cunningham Youth Ranch. His wife, Ruth encouraged Glenn to reach out to other youth who were experiencing troubling times. Over a thirty-year period of time the Cunningham’s raised their own ten children on the ranch while reaching out as foster parents to over some 10,000 children. They did it at their own expense without government money.
Ruth, a simple, loving Christian played a large part in Cunningham’s life. Ruth’s drive, along with a strict upbringing in a home that sought to honor Christ, Cunningham found a place and voice to hnor his Savior. After he retired, he once said “I regret all of the times when I should have stood up for Christ and I didn’t.” That changed. The year before Cunningham’s death, he met and was interviewed by Chuck Coleson. Colson was taken aback when Cunningham asked around the dinner table that evening, “So what is your relationship with Jesus Christ?”
Some of his school mates called him “Scarlegs” yet at the end of his running career he was known as the “Ironman of Kansas.” Once looking on his trophies, medals, and awards he bemused that he would give them all up if he could just have the little silver cup that had stood in the hardware store in Elkhart, Kansas. He won it, but the cup came up missing and the hardware store never did make good on their promise to give him the award that started him running the first race on a dirt track at the Morton County Fair in 1923.