Glenn Cunningham grew up in Elkhart, Kansas, where every morning he and his brother Floyd would go to the school early to light the kerosene stove to heat the classroom before their classmates and teacher arrived.
One morning, Floyd and Glenn arrived and went to start the stove, but instead of kerosene, someone had placed gasoline in the can. An explosion caused the school house to catch fire. Floyd was killed and Glenn was pulled from the fire.
Doctor’s expected Glenn to die, and explained to his distraught parents that at best he would be a cripple for life as the fire had destroyed so much tissue from his lower limbs. His parents refused to let the doctors amputate Glenn’s legs.
For two years, Glenn had no strength in his legs. Then he determined to walk again. He would drag himself around the front yard, going from fence post to fence post like a child learning to ice skate or a child clinging to the edge of a swimming pool.
After some time, he was able to walk haltingly. His gait smoothed out over time and he was able to walk and then run. Glenn ran for the sheer joy of running. He made the track team in college and was given the nicknames “the Kansas Flyer”, “Elkhart Express” and the “Iron Horse of Kansas”.
Glenn competed in the 1932 and the 1936 Olympics, where in 1936 he took the silver in the 1500m. In 1934 he set the world record for the mile at 4:06.8. This record stood for three years He set the world record for the 800m in 1936. In 1938, he set the indoor record for the mile at 4:04.4. Later that same year in a prestigious outdoor track meet, he shaved another second off his record to run the world’s fastest mile to that time.