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Glenn Cunningham : An inspiration beyond imagination

Tuheen Kushal
CONTRIBUTOR
Glenn Cunningham

We believe that the pillars of success are hard work, determination, devotion and discipline. But we never ask ourselves how much of it is true? Some just believe it while some adhere to it without questioning. These persons who adhere to these pillars with unmatched levels of dedication are the ones who prove this saying true. One such personality is Glenn Cunningham.

Glenn Verniss Cunningham, a name which might not ring a bell in many people's mind but anyone who even has a slightest idea of what this man has achieved, doesn't forget his name even on his/her death bed. His name is not one to be forgotten but one to be cherished, preserved and worshipped. His story is an inspiration, a miracle and a contradictory example to all those who believe that individuals have limits. From a precarious position of not even being able to crawl, this man rose to rewrite history books. His life was literally a wonder.

Glenn Cunningham, an American, was born on 4 August, 1909 in Atlanta, Kansas but was brought up in Elkhart, Kansas. Like most boys in the countryside, Glenn had a middle-class background. He and his elder brother Floyd went to the same school. But things were about to take a different course soon. Since every success has a story and every inspiration has a tragedy, Glenn's life was about to meet a tragedy.

The school was heated by a coal-driven heater and these two boys had the job of warming the schoolhouse before the teachers and other students arrived. One day when the teachers and students came to school, what they witnessed was nerve-wracking. The school was almost burnt down in flames with the two boys trapped inside. Someone had mistakenly put gasoline instead of kerosene in the pot-bellied coal stove. Glenn was somehow saved but Floyd met a tragic end and lost his life. Glenn was dragged from the school and was quickly taken to a nearby country hospital. The lower half of his body was almost consumed by the fire.

Many thought that it was just a matter of time before Glenn met the same fate as his brother. Even if the doctors somehow managed to save him, he would remain a cripple for the rest of his life. This is just what happened with a different ending. Doctors did save him and because of his constant feebled protests they didn't detach him from his lifeless legs. The legs just dangled with a tinge of flesh over them.

This incident could have broken down even the mightiest of wills but Glenn's determination was unquantifiable . His mother massaged his little legs in the hope of a miracle and the miracle soon happened.

One day his mother took him out in the yard for some fresh air. Glenn's life away from bed was supported by a wheelchair. But this day, Glenn did something unimaginable. He threw himself out of the wheelchair and onto the ground. That was the first to step redemption. Then he dragged himself with his hands to the white fence that bordered the yard. By engaging a lot of strength, he picked himself up. The redemption progressed. Slowly, the boy took steps, enduring utmost pain. He wanted his dangling legs to answer. He did it again and again and again for days to come. With each progressing day, the motor abilty in his legs improved. The legs weren't lifeless anymore. The boy limped, progressed to slow walking and then walked at pace around the yard. Few days later, he walked to school and then ultimately, ran to school. It was his persistence and patience that brought about the miracle. He could have been satisfied with this much improved state and could have lead a normal life but it wasn't so. He was en route to becoming an inspiration beyond imagination to millions.

Life progressed and Glenn became a track and field athlete. He represented the University of Kansas. He practised day and night. He ran not for glory but for the sheer pleasure of running. He ran, ran and ran to register himself as an immortal in the history books.

In February 1934, at the famed Madinson Square Garden in New York City, Glenn Verniss Cunningham, who once didn't find life in his dangling legs, ran on to record the fastest indoor mile ran in America's history. He achieved this feat in four mintues and six seconds. The record, however, was broken 3 years later by Sydney Wooderson.

Glenn Cunningham was also the world record holder for the Men's 800m run in 1936. He won many accolades over his inspiring career, the most prominent being the James E. Sullivan honour in 1933 and a silver medal in 1500m at the Berlin Olympics, 1936. He retired in 1940. By then he had earned nicknames like the 'Kansas Flyer', the 'Elkhart express' and the 'Iron Horse of Kansas'.

This story is not only about a man who lost his legs at an early age and then miraculously recovered to set world records in track and field. This story is actually about the pillars of success which when adhered to can produce unimaginable results, results which many believe are way off human limits. Glenn Cunningham's achievements can be well understood if a perspective of deriving inspiration from the above story is adopted.

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