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The power of determination (true story)

A true story about athlete Glenn Cunningham who was horribly burned in a schoolhouse fire at the age of 8. Doctors predicted he would never walk again. Determined to walk, Glenn would throw himself off his wheelchair and pull his body across the yard and along a fence. Twenty-two months later, he took his first steps and through sheer determination, learned to run despite the pain…

The little country schoolhouse was heated by an old-fashioned, pot-bellied coal stove. A little boy had the job of coming to school early each day to start the fire and warm the room before his teacher and his classmates arrived.

One morning they arrived to find the schoolhouse engulfed in flames. They dragged the unconscious little boy out of the flaming building more dead than alive. He had major burns over the lower half of his body and was taken to a nearby county hospital.

From his bed the dreadfully burned, semi-conscious little boy faintly heard the doctor talking to his mother. The doctor told his mother that her son would surely die – which was for the best, really – for the terrible fire had devastated the lower half of his body.

But the brave boy didn’t want to die. He made up his mind that he would survive. Somehow, to the amazement of the physician, he did survive. When the mortal danger was past, he again heard the doctor and his mother speaking quietly. The mother was told that since the fire had destroyed so much flesh in the lower part of his body, it would almost be better if he had died, since he was doomed to be a lifetime cripple with no use at all of his lower limbs.

Once more the brave boy made up his mind. He would not be a cripple. He would walk. But unfortunately from the waist down, he had no motor ability. His thin legs just dangled there, all but lifeless.

Ultimately he was released from the hospital. Every day his mother would massage his little legs, but there was no feeling, no control, nothing. Yet his determination that he would walk was as strong as ever.

When he wasn’t in bed, he was confined to a wheelchair. One sunny day his mother wheeled him out into the yard to get some fresh air. This day, instead of sitting there, he threw himself from the chair. He pulled himself across the grass, dragging his legs behind him.

He worked his way to the white picket fence bordering their lot. With great effort, he raised himself up on the fence. Then, stake by stake, he began dragging himself along the fence, resolved that he would walk. He started to do this every day until he wore a smooth path all around the yard beside the fence. There was nothing he wanted more than to develop life in those legs.

Ultimately through his daily massages, his iron persistence and his resolute determination, he did develop the ability to stand up, then to walk haltingly, then to walk by himself – and then – to run.

He began to walk to school, then to run to school, to run for the sheer joy of running. Later in college he made the track team.

Still later in Madison Square Garden this young man who was not expected to survive, who would surely never walk, who could never hope to run – this determined young man, Dr. Glenn Cunningham, ran the world’s fastest mile**!

Story Told By Burt Dubin,
Developer of Speaking Success System.

**On June 16, 1934, Glenn Cunningham ran the mile in 4:06.8 minutes, breaking the world’s record. His effort portrays that whatever you want to create in your life is yours for the making. As long as you desire it enough and allow your will to guide you, you can have and be whatever your heart desires. The only one that can put limits on our personal will is ourselves. Develop and encourage your will to create and all the forces of nature within and without will help you bring your desire to pass.

Life Summary:

  • 8 years old, was horribly burned in a schoolhouse fire. Doctors predicted he would never walk again.
  • 22 months later, took his first steps and through sheer determination, learned to run despite the pain.
  • In high school, set records for the mile and later attended Kansas University.
  • While at Kansas, refused all scholarship money, preferring to pay his own way.
  • By sophomore year, ran the 1,500 meter race at the 1932 Olympics, but finished fourth due to a severe cold.
  • By senior year, set a world record for the mile of 4:06.8 and held seven of the top 13 fastest recorded times for the mile.
  • In 1936, voted “Most Popular Athlete” by his fellow athletes.
  • He went on to earn a master’s degree from University of Iowa and later a doctorate from New York University.
  • While in New York, won 21 of 31 races at Madison Square Gardens and set an indoor mile record there in 1938.  His fastest mile time was 4:04.4 at a Dartmouth track meet in 1938.
  • When the 1940 Olympics were cancelled, he retired from his running career and taught at Cornell College in Iowa.
  • During World War II, he served two years in the Navy.
  • Spent the remainder of his life running the Glenn Cunningham Youth Ranch for troubled kids in Kansas, USA.  It is estimated that he and his wife raised around 9,000 kids on their ranch in the years until his death in 1988.

Glenn Cunningham Images:

Cunningham at 1936 Games.

Glenn Cunningham and Wife at Their Range.

More Reading:

{ 69 comments… add one }
  • R.KSHADOW July 19, 2022, 10:37 am

    so good story.. well done! proud to be an indian

  • by August 14, 2019, 6:54 pm

    So inspiring and heart-touching

  • Inha December 10, 2018, 2:29 am

    This story really touched my heart. I’ve never been grateful for what god gave to me, but now I realize that there are still many people who have physical limitations but they never give up.

    Thank you ???

  • Isabela Del Nero Pires October 15, 2018, 10:40 am

    Dear Stephen,

    In your 2012 article about Glenn Cunningham’s life story, I was inspired to pursue my passion and it really made me think about the possibility of a life-changing injury.

    Knowing that Cunningham was only 8 years old when this happened, and had to go through this with very little life experience, reassures me that I have it good and if I were to go through something like this I would be better prepared.

    When you said, “whatever you want to create in your life is yours for the making,” it really spoke to me because I always find that I am doubting myself in everything I do.

    This story shows great perseverance and motivates me to keep on going despite life’s challenges along the way.

    Best Regards,

    Isabela Del Nero Pires

  • OOGA BOOGA December 22, 2017, 1:46 pm

    This is what determines character.

  • Atulya September 10, 2017, 3:22 am

    Nice one

  • Atulya September 10, 2017, 3:22 am

    Wowsome I really liked when I m reading my mom and dad tears coming and it is not allow to stop them crying this stry is only called true story

  • Jacqui Jo Titan November 16, 2016, 6:51 am

    I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard of Dr Glenn Cunningham until reading this beautiful story. What a wonderful example of the human spirit. Glenn won his battle against all the odds, giving others the most precious gift of all – hope.

  • Thompson July 30, 2016, 9:32 pm

    “The only one that can put limits to our personal is ourselves…” Yep I agree with this.

  • Sunil kumar May 11, 2016, 10:21 am

    Great story..
    Good work..

  • Obi E.I March 20, 2016, 12:41 pm

    I’m really inspired and motivated…God bless you sir

  • Muhammad Abrar March 16, 2016, 11:14 am

    The story teaches us that its our belief and determination that keeps us alive.

  • Shreya Gupta December 13, 2015, 6:01 am

    It is really a Heart Touching story. And Glenn is a real hero

  • Olusoji October 21, 2015, 11:52 am

    Nice one. We’re not saved to escape problems, but to have real solutions. To damn determination is to remain imprisoned in anguish.

  • Sagar panchmatia October 4, 2015, 6:31 pm

    Very much inspirational, thanks a lot for sharing
    It proves that everything is depends on your thinking
    Again thanks

  • Arwa Andamanwala September 19, 2015, 6:24 am

    Excellent story but dreadful reality!!! Real inspiration.

  • Ali Raza September 13, 2015, 2:48 am

    Surely, a person with positive determination never loss his willing of determination.

  • AB July 24, 2015, 11:21 am

    Thnks !!! my dear frnd .
    This message Must help me to create my own identity. Now i must try to get my goal at any condition.
    Again Thnks to u .

  • Maxry May 20, 2015, 2:27 pm

    Absolutely incredible..grt piece

  • Aishwarya February 17, 2015, 5:59 am

    One Can do anything as long as the will and desire is alive….
    Very inspiring story=)

  • Dr Yehya Al Marzouqi January 4, 2015, 2:55 pm

    What an inspiring story. The “can do mentality” and not taking “NO” for an answer can make us make the impossible possible.

  • Sanjay, shimla December 18, 2014, 4:44 pm

    Indelible n innovative story of a legendary n versatile persona who defied d odds n set up an epitome of salvatiön to d ebulient youth.

  • Shashikumar.M. December 3, 2014, 4:37 am

    Great…….power of determination and commitment ……..great experience to be shared with those who are disappointed.

  • Jason Kim November 23, 2014, 5:44 am

    This is really motivational! So good! Thank you for writing this story!

  • Ajay Ranawat November 19, 2014, 8:31 am

    Thanks for posting this wonderful and really motivating story. A personl thanks to all for your good comments too. God bless and make our dreams come true with our nonstoppable will.

  • Michael Nartey-Tokoki August 22, 2014, 11:54 am

    I’m really really inspired.

  • Malancha kalita July 9, 2014, 12:41 pm

    Man born not to be defeated.

  • Mohd hassan June 30, 2014, 3:27 am

    Inspiring lot

  • Vijay chopra May 17, 2014, 12:45 am

    Do not have words to tell. Really it is an inspirational Story……

  • Neliuis November 13, 2013, 10:59 am

    I am really inspired for me from what I have read I believe I’ve made it.

  • Vijay November 7, 2013, 3:23 am

    Leaves me with a very clear difference between Hope and Determination, Between wishful Thinking and Thinking.

  • Tom October 28, 2013, 8:55 pm

    Stories like these show that even though I think that my life might be utter shit sometimes it could never be as bad as these people, and these people toke there problems and made the best out of them! Always stay strong, never quit. “Winners never quit, quitters never win.”

  • Anand September 16, 2013, 8:40 am

    Thank you very much great inspiration…. say yourself “I can do it” it will be reality sooner or later, move with goal and plan.

  • Apurva September 12, 2013, 5:14 am

    Life is all about what you create out of it… Awe inspiring..

  • Paranthaman.R September 11, 2013, 11:37 pm

    It is a fantastic story for determination. If we hold any determination, following that and working hard. Really it will end in success. Everybody takes result from third person voice for them, not neglecting them.

  • Shamim September 11, 2013, 2:43 pm

    Very inspiring!! I wish we could all have such a strong will power to do anything in life. Firstly to understand the existence of God and second to think positive and not to give up easily.

  • Darshan Manjappa August 1, 2013, 12:59 pm

    Thank you so much for a such wonderful inspiring story…

    Another best example for Swami Vivekananda quote “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is way great spiritual giants are produced.”

  • Ammu July 25, 2013, 6:49 am

    So amazing story I will share it to all my friends.

  • Ar2x June 4, 2013, 5:30 am

    So amazing! I can’t wait to share this. So thankful to read this page.

  • Carl May 10, 2013, 7:49 am

    Thanks to the website. I like it so much. Really amazing!

  • DJ April 11, 2013, 2:11 am

    My age is 20 and am just about to finish my graduation. I am an aspiring actor, people say its nearly impossible for u to become an actor as it needs good contacts in the industry. But after reading this wonderful story it touched my heart and got lump in my throat. And have decided no matter what happens I will stay focussed and determined towards my aim. Thnks!!!

  • Rajshekhar April 3, 2013, 1:49 pm

    Determination is everything!

  • Mohan March 23, 2013, 2:45 am

    Nothing is impossible. Truly inspiring. Win never escapes from us if we have full determination.

  • Zohra March 7, 2013, 9:21 am

    Heart touching story.

  • Sumera January 20, 2013, 8:40 am

    It’s really heart touchy and beautiful story.

  • Ashish kumar November 15, 2012, 8:46 am

    This man is the real Hero…

  • Nivetha November 10, 2012, 11:55 am

    Really, inspiring story……

  • Hannah November 3, 2012, 5:21 pm

    Amazing story ! Just beautiful.

  • Dennie November 3, 2012, 12:31 am

    I was inspired. Nice story. I was wholly motivated to keep on going despite of life’s challenges along my way.

  • Bipul October 21, 2012, 5:17 am

    Salute to Glenn Cunningham.. Hatts off.

  • Vandana Jain October 17, 2012, 8:00 am

    Really Inspirational..

  • Shagun Aryan October 3, 2012, 6:25 am

    Heart touching story…

  • Rossi October 2, 2012, 3:03 pm

    This is one true feeling i do understand.

  • Canpara Harriet September 27, 2012, 5:53 am

    It’s so touching and much more encouraging, he indeed never let words take him down.

  • Harish September 25, 2012, 9:35 am

    It’s truly an inspiring story. I have learnt the lesson to never give up by studying this story.

  • Shivlal Tiwari September 25, 2012, 8:48 am

    Obstacles are there…but…nothing is impossible…!

  • Rajeshkumar September 23, 2012, 11:32 am

    Great inspirational fact…

  • Kv11 September 20, 2012, 11:53 am

    Thanks for the nice story. Real moral boosting stuff.

  • Chetana September 18, 2012, 5:37 am

    I can say that God has given all power within us. We have to just recognize it…..

  • Sushil Sharma September 16, 2012, 4:21 am

    I read this story and knew about power of determination.

  • Amit verma September 13, 2012, 3:51 am

    After reading this story my feeling is alive again… Thanx a lot….

  • Chandra September 11, 2012, 1:37 am

    Good reading after a long time.

  • Amitesh Biswas September 10, 2012, 2:45 pm

    Thanks 4 such a real motivational story.

  • Sushil Kumar Gupta September 8, 2012, 9:00 am

    Unexpected & unimaginable act of Glen Cunningham with strong confidence…

  • Romit Roy September 3, 2012, 10:56 am

    The story of real man filled with determination!!!!

    If we try hard………………nothing is impossible!!…(y)

  • Pradeep September 1, 2012, 4:47 pm

    Really inspiring and unbelievable. I am not sure if the Cunningham Road in Bangalore is named after him. Pls confirm.

  • Noeme D. Catayas September 1, 2012, 6:46 am

    I love this line: whatever you want to create in your life is yours for the making. Thanks for the reminder and encouragement.

  • Madhav August 31, 2012, 6:00 am

    Fantastic. Really inspiring.

  • Ashokhooli August 30, 2012, 7:11 am

    Thank you excellent true story which can guide the youth who are in trouble. Thanks to the website.

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