A Lesson in Humility

Over the years I have come across many stories that changed my perspective on life and what is possible for me.  Every few months the stories jump back in to my mind and remind me who I am and how incredible humans are.  This story below is one of those:

In 1916 a boy named Glenn and his brother Floyd were lighting a fire in a heating stove at the one room schoolhouse they attended.  There was no one else there at the time and Floyd as the older brother took on the responsibility to light the stove on this cold day.  If you've ever seen coal after a couple hours, you'll notice it looks mostly burned out, but when you touch it, it will still feel hot to the touch. 

The coal in this stove had laid dormant over night and to Floyd's knowledge, they were not burning anymore.  Expecting to have to light the stove up again, Floyd grabbed the container marked Karosine and splashed it on to the coals, so he could light it after.  Unfortunately, what they didn't know is that the container actually held gasoline instead and the coals immediately exploded in to a fiery mess.

The gasoline splashed on Glenn's legs and Floyd was covered as well.  Unable to help his older brother Floyd, Glenn, age 7, ran out of the building heading toward town as the fire viciously ravaged his little legs.  Found by a neighbor, Glenn passed out shortly after with his bones of his shins and feet visible to the naked eye.  Once awake at the hospital, Glenn asked about Floyd and it was explained to him that by the time they reached his brother, there was nothing that could be done. 

As if that was not enough, little Glenn and his parents were told by doctors that he would never walk again. Glenn at the tender age of 7 made a resolution.  That he WOULD walk again.  He would not be a burden on anyone, no matter how much it hurt him.  Over the next couple years, people would see Glenn holding on to a fence and walking around the yard.  He would visibly be in immense amounts of pain.

There was no stopping Glenn.  With no toes on his left foot and what little muscle he had left in his calf's and feet, he kept marching on.  At some point, Glenn decided it was time to make himself useful and he chose to make a go at mail delivery.  What job would have him forcing those muscles to work more than a mailman(boy)?  He had to make deliveries on time and soon discovered the only time his legs didn't hurt was when he was running instead of walking.

Townsfolk would be seeing little Glenn all over the place.  Running here, running there.  Making deliveries and running errands.  He'd run the mile home from school for lunch instead of eating in the lunchroom like every other kid.  With this forced skill, Glenn soon learned he was faster than most kids.  His breathing was easier because he did it more than they did.  He was rarely out of breath and never took breaks.

After several years, it became apparent that Glenn Cunningham was VERY good at running.  In fact, he ran so fast that he eventually made the American Olympic team with ease.  In 1934, he was competing in the Olympics for the first time.  It was at that time the world learned how truly fast he was when he beat the world record for the fastest mile ever run at 4 minutes and 6 seconds.  Doing so, with a 40 yard lead over the second place contender, which is virtually unheard of(nearly half a football field).  Fellow runners Nelson and Quercetani remarked to the press "His scarred legs churned wildly.  He opened up an alarming gap over Bonthron".  Bonthron was the man in second place.

In 1938, Glenn beat his own record again, at four minutes and four seconds, retiring shortly after.  Glenn remarked with pride, that anyone to beat his records would have to be "The greatest runner ever".  This is when Glenn began his new career as a doctor and continued to show that circumstances do not define you, you define them.  

What are you capable of?  Time to light the fire.


Martin J Glennon

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