The Cripple Who Became an Olympian
How determined are you?

The cold February air numbed the two brothers’ fingers as they tried to start a fire in the schoolhouse. They started early so the room would be warm when the teacher and other students arrived. Seven-year-old Glenn Cunningham watched as his brother soaked the wood with a can of kerosene and then lit the fire. The can, however, had been filled with gasoline—not kerosene. The now gasoline-soaked wood burst into flames, and the force of the explosion knocked them both down.

Flames spread quickly through the schoolhouse and engulfed the boys. They hurried outside, rolled in the snow, and then ran home to get help. Their parents immediately rushed the boys to a doctor. Doctors tried to help Glenn’s brother, but his wounds were so severe that he died shortly after. Glenn didn’t have it much better. The doctor told his parents that if Glenn was lucky enough to keep infection out, he had a chance of surviving, but he would never walk again. Most of the muscles on his legs were burned off, and the toes on his left foot were gone.

A few days later, Glenn overheard his mother talking to a neighbor about how to care for Glenn since he wouldn’t be able to walk ever again. Glenn realized how much of a burden he would be on his family. He decided that he would do everything he could to help his parents. On that day in February 1916, he decided that he would learn to walk.

But Glenn couldn’t start walking right away. He had to wait for his legs to heal as much as possible. He would massage his legs to get the blood flowing back into them, but it was another three years before he attempted to walk.

One day in 1919, his mother wheeled him to the backyard to get some sun and fresh air. She then went back inside. Once she was gone, Glenn crawled out of the wheelchair, across the grass, and to the nearest fence post. Grabbing the post, he carefully stood himself up. He took a couple extremely painful steps before he fell down.

Determined to walk, he got up and tried again. Every day, he massaged what was left of his legs before he went outside and attempted to walk. He did this exercise until he was able to stand without the support of the fence. At 10 years old, Glenn defied the doctor’s prognosis and was walking again.

Still, walking was painful. Glenn learned that running was less painful, so he started running everywhere he went. If it required taking more than a few steps, he ran! He developed a love for running that lasted the rest of his life.

By the age of 12, Glenn could outrun everyone in his age group. In high school, he entered the track and field team. Glenn specialized in mid-distance running. He was exceptionally good at the 1500 meter and the mile. Over his career, he broke the records for the 1500 meter and the mile seven times! Coaches believed that Glenn would be the one to break the four-minute mile. Although Glenn came very close, he was never able to break it. Still, his mile record of 4:04.40 seconds was astonishing.

In 1932, Glenn made it to the Olympics in Los Angeles. As if making it to the Olympics were not a big enough accomplishment, the boy who was told he would never run again placed fourth in the 1500 meter, coming in just a couple yards behind the third-place runner! Just four years later, he was back at the Olympics, this time in Berlin. He earned a silver medal in the 1500 meter. This was a huge accomplishment for someone who was lucky to be alive, let alone walk.

Glenn’s most outstanding quality was his determination. His childhood dream of making it to the Olympics was seemingly crushed on that February day when he nearly burned to death. But his determination drove him to do more than just walk. Once he learned to walk, he set his mind to become a runner. He realized his love for running and set his heart on the Olympics. If he hadn’t been determined to accomplish his goals, he would have never made it out of his wheelchair.

We all have goals we want to accomplish, but we will never reach those goals if we aren’t determined. Our level of determination has a direct impact on how successful we are. If we aren’t very determined to accomplish a task, then we probably won’t do it. Even if we finish the task, the quality won’t be as high as if we had put our whole effort into it, as we are admonished to do in Ecclesiastes 9:10.

Determination coupled with the right goal is an important part of our success. Glenn Cunningham’s determination should inspire us to have the same resolve in our lives. Glenn surpassed his goal, made it to the Olympics, and even broke several world records. If we are determined, we can be so much more successful because God helps us to accomplish our goals. Emulate Glenn Cunningham’s determination in your own life, and see how God blesses you with success.