Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 8, 2011

The Kansas Flyer

In February 1917, seven-year-old Glenn Cunningham survived a schoolhouse fire in Elkhart, Kansas that claimed the life of his older brother Floyd. Glenn suffered severe burns to his legs and torso and lost all of the toes on his left foot. His injuries were so severe that the attending physician told his parents that he would never walk again and recommended that Glenn’s legs be amputated. His parents would not agree to amputation, a decision that would later prove to be more than wise.

Over the next two years Glenn was motivated by an ironclad determination to walk again. Although he was unable to straighten his scar-tissue-constricted legs, Glenn set attainable goals for himself. He began by crawling and then eventually started to stand by holding on to household furniture. Soon he began to take small steps, and then eventually he started running. Glenn said that it was painful to walk but that it hurt much less when he ran. So, he started to run.

During his senior year at Elkhart High School, at the Kansas state track meet in Manhattan, Glenn set a new state record for the mile at 4 minutes 28 seconds. Soon after that at a track meet in Chicago, he ran the mile in 4 minutes 24 seconds, a new world record for the interscholastic mile. By his senior year at Kansas University, Glenn had set a new world record by running the mile in 4 minutes 6 seconds.

Glenn competed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where he finished six-tenths of a second behind Jack Lovelock from New Zealand. Glenn went on to win many more races and was inaugurated into the Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978, just ten years before his death. Madison Square Gardens recognized him as the most outstanding track athlete to compete in the legendary  building during its first one-hundred years. Glenn’s remarkable speed earned him the nicknames “The Kansas Flyer” and “The Elkhart Express” and “The Kansas Ironman.”

Glenn suffered stiffness and burning pain in his legs every time he ran, but he never complained. “Complaining about something I had no control over would have diminished what I was trying to do,” he said. Glenn lived by Proverbs 23:7, his favorite Bible verse: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” He had a never quit philosophy and often said, “I’d rather be dead than be mediocre.”

Glenn’s wife Ruth told him: “You have lived unselfishly, Glenn, never quitting on any person or difficulty. I prayed a long time that the Lord would give you a significant and fulfilled life. He answered that prayer magnificently, and He did it in a double dose, because along the way we both discovered Jesus Christ as the source of every provision in life. How great that we have had the opportunity to learn about Him, about His plan for our lives and sharing all of this with those youngsters who came our way.”

I don’t know what you are facing today or this week. I don’t know what has burned or demoralized you along the way or what threatens to cripple you. I don’t know what may be causing you agonizing pain with every step you take or what makes you feel like giving up. But I do know that the same God who sustained Glenn Cunningham and strengthened him to achieve what nobody ever imagined he could achieve stands ready to help you.

Be encouraged by Glenn Cunningham’s example and determine to overcome your obstacles one small step at a time. And remember Isaiah 40:31, another of Glenn’s favorite verses: “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.”


  1. Love when God answers prayer in “double doses”. Thanks for that, Omar!

    Also, another runner during that time, one whom Cunningham would predict to break the 4-minute mile, Louis Zamperini, is the subject of Time’s 2010 Book of the Year, “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I’ve had to keep the tissues close while reading this book. He is a fellow runner, WWII veteran, Japanese POW…and Christian. He’s going to be at Houston’s FBC later this month to share his trials and testimony.

    If you liked this post about Glenn Cunningham by Omar, I’m going to guess you won’t want to miss this event.

    • Hey Saul…

      Pastor Alex gave me a copy of “Unbroken” last week. Wow. You are absolutely right in that it is a compelling read. What a remarkable story. Thanks for providing the link to the Louis Zamperini event at FBC Houston.


  2. Love it! I think, “I’d rather be dead than mediocre” is my new motto…. And, well, let’s just say Isaiah 40:31 was the verse that got me through the last two miles of my first marathon and has meant so much to me ever since. We can do so much more than we think we can when we wait on and lean into HIS strength! Come share this story tonight or Sunday night with our Just Trainers!

  3. Love this post Omar – thank you so much. I’m going through some challenges and it seems like every day the Lord puts something like your message here in front of me which builds up my faith and helps to keep me focused.

    God Bless.

    • Thanks, Chad. You have been such a faithful reader since the start of my blog and have encouraged me so often along the way with your comments. Please be assured of my prayers for you as you deal with the challenges in your life at this time.

  4. I was honored to meet and run in a few races with Mr. Cunningham. I grew up in Elkhart, and traveled back there several years in a row to run in the Cunningham/ Baker Race. My sister posted this today on Facebook, and I read with tears in my eyes, reminding me of the many times I run ahead of God. Today is a perfect day to be reminded of Isiah 40:31. Thank you to my sister for posting this and for this Kansas Flyer.

    • Thanks for sharing, Cheryl. What a blessing to have met and run with Mr. Cunningham. Truly an inspiration to so many.

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