Thirteen-year-old Floyd Cunningham was putting wood in the pot-belly stove of their one room school house. Nine-year-old Raymond and 7-year-old Glenn were writing on the chalk board. Despite the cold Kansas weather that morning, their 11-year-old sister, Letha, was swinging outside. The Cunningham children were always the first ones in the school, so they were tasked with starting the fire and warming up the building before the teacher and the rest of the students arrived.
As Floyd prepared the stove, Glenn went back to watch his brother work. The last thing Floyd added was kerosene; however, the can that had been left there after a community meeting the night before was full of gasoline, not kerosene. There were still live coals in the bottom of the stove, so when Floyd poured the gasoline on the wood and coals there was an explosion of flame. Floyd and Glen were severely burned and the school house caught on fire. Letha heard the explosion and saw the flames, and helped Raymond get Floyd and Glenn out of the burning building.
The four children struggled home. When the doctor saw the boys, he knew Floyd would die. He told Glenn’s parents, “He might live unless an infection sets in. If the infection gets too bad, we won’t have any choice but to amputate. Regardless, Glenn will never be able to walk again on those legs. They are just too badly burned.”
Floyd did die, but Glenn refused to accept the prognosis of losing the use of his legs. He held firm to the belief that God could help him recover. His favorite scripture at the time was Isaiah 40:31: “But those who wait on 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.”
One day when his mother rolled him in a wheel chair outside, Glenn pushed himself out of the chair and drug himself on his arms to the fence that went around their yard. At first his legs were not very useful, but eventually he could stand with the fence. He would even hang onto cows and mules as they went to water.
Glenn faced years of recovery, but eventually did walk, and then run. He not only ran, but learned to run fast. He ran everywhere; to school, friends houses, and around town. Glenn worked at it consistently. Despite infections and chronic pain for most of his running days, he would eventually become such a strong runner that he won silver in the 1936 Olympics. (Here is a cool video of his Olympic silver medal.)
Glenn would never give up when he set out to do something. He later felt God ask him to help others learn these principles. He had 12 biological children, and helped more than 6,000 kids over the years at the Cunningham Youth Ranches in Kansas and Arkansas. He taught the children about love, hope, self-discipline and the Bible.
As Glenn had experienced as a child, the young children he took in were expected to work hard, play hard and never quit. He taught them to live by his favorite Bible verses such as Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Take a moment to consider these axioms that Glenn taught thousands of kids.
- If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
- Belief influences action, and action influences belief.
- Act as if it were impossible to fail.
- Every great accomplishment started with a thought.
Now consider what you stand for, what you believe and what you think about most. Do you act as if you expect to succeed or fail?
I don’t think Glenn means you should take success as a foregone conclusion, when he said, “act as if it were impossible to fail.” Rather I think he was suggesting not to allow doubts to hold you back. If you know you will never give up, and God will never give up on you, you can set your sights firmly in front of you, never wasting time looking for a fall back.