Overcoming Life’s Insurmountable: Glenn Cunningham

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A select few face overwhelming challenges in life.  Encouraged with a heart filled with perseverance, these trailblazers adopt an attitude where “Can” outplays “Can’t.”

Born in 1909, American Glenn Cunningham transformed into one of the world’s best middle distance runners.  However, there was much more to this man’s personal story.

Born in Kansas, seven year-old Glenn endured burns suffered from a gasoline explosion at school.  The lower part of his body was substantially burned.  Doctors said that the young boy would never walk again.

Hopelessly crippled by the burns to his legs, young Glenn proved many people wrong about his future.  Not only would he walk, but he ran right into the record books.

Nicknamed the “Kansas Ironman” and “Kansas Flyer,” Glenn’s perseverance and dedicated training brought him into a setting that few could ever have imagined.  He emerged as one of the world’s premiere track athletes in the 1930s.  The mile run became his specialty, and he went on to win numerous races and championships. 

In 1934, he established a world record in the mile run (4:06:08), and his performance would not be bettered for three years.  After his world record run, Glenn was quoted, “I always believed that I could walk normally, and that was the truth.  Now I will run, and run faster than anyone else.”

Glenn’s amazing willpower and faith carried him onto the world stage.   Running the 1500 meter run in two different summer Olympics, he proved his greatness.  He placed fourth in the 1932 Olympics at Los Angeles, but he saved his best for 1936 at Berlin when he earned a silver medal. 

Glenn’s Christian faith was visible in his actions and words.  One of his favorite Scripture verses came from Isaiah 40:31:  “But those who wait for 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.”

Throughout his distinguished running career, Glenn endured frequent leg pain.  Few could imagine how he needed to overcome so much with a faith-filled, inner strength.

As Glenn’s running career wrapped up, the country needed his service in World War II.  He served in the U.S. Navy, and he developed new physical training programs.  Later he taught athletics and physical education at Cornell College in Iowa. 

One of his most noted ventures exhibited his desire to care for underprivileged children.  He and his wife established the Glenn Cunningham Youth Ranch, which offered a temporary home for over 10,000 foster children.

These closing words from Glenn epitomized his approach to his life:  “In running it is man against himself, the cruelest of opponents.  The other runners are not the real enemies.  His adversary lies within him, in his ability with brain and heart to master himself and his emotions.”