When I think of what resiliency means I think of one of my boyhood heroes Glenn Cunningham. Glenn’s life is the epitome of someone who developed resiliency, became stronger, more confident, and competent as he dealt with his challenges.
His story begins on February 9, 1917, in the one room schoolhouse in Elkhart, Kansas. The Cunningham’s lived closer to the school than the other students so they were given the task of arriving early and getting the old pot-belly coal stove, that kept the school warm, ready for the day. Glenn and his older brother Floyd were the only ones in the school.
Unbeknownst to the boys, gasoline rather than kerosene was in the five-gallon container used to start the fire. Unfortunately there were still hot coals in the bottom of the stove and an immediate explosion occurred when the gasoline was added. Glenn and his brother were seriously burned.
Another brother and sister of Glenn’s were in the schoolyard but not in the building. They saw the flames, rushed into the school, got Glenn and Floyd out, and then helped them walk the two miles to their home.
After treating both boys the doctor gave their parents the prognosis. Floyd was going to die (which he did nine days later) and Glenn would be a cripple and both legs should be amputated.
Glenn heard the doctor and pled with his mother not to let him amputate. His injuries included the loss of his toes on his left foot, all of his flesh on his knees and shins was gone, and the transverse arch on his foot was nearly destroyed. His mother listened to her son and refused permission for the surgery. Glenn’s struggles were just beginning but those struggles are what make this story so compelling.
For two years Glenn was confined to his bed suffering intense pain and fighting dangerous infections. Glenn describes his pain, suffering, and determination.
“Slowly, I pushed my pain-wracked body upright in bed. Bracing myself, I moved my right leg one inch toward the edge of the bed … then another inch … then the left limb the same way. Finally I got both badly burned legs over the edge and onto the floor. … Sweat broke out on my body. My head was reeling … how my legs hurt!”
As he slowly began to improve he learned to stand, walk a step or two, and eventually run. His training methods were unique and unusual but effective. After getting strong enough to stand and support his weight he would hang onto the tail of one of the family’s mules or milk cows and try to keep up as it pulled him.
Cunningham’s efforts paid off as he went on to become the premier miler of his day. He won the Kansas state high school championship for the mile run, the national high school championship, two NCAA titles, and ten AAU national titles. He also ran in two Olympics, got his PhD. and purchased a farm where for the next 30 years he invited wayward boys to join him, learn to work hard, be productive, and get their life in order.
Glenn’s ability to face his adversity along with his positive attitude is what made him stronger. He said, “As long as you believe you can do things, they’re not impossible. You place limits on yourself mentally not physically.”
Glenn Cunningham had resiliency. He was able to bounce back from his challenges without letting them defeat him. We can learn from him that by developing resiliency we not only gain strength to meet the current challenge, but also the others that come our way.
It has been said that the road to success is always under construction. This is a perfect description of parent’s knowledge that their children's road will be long, bumpy, and filled with many challenges. Knowing this, parents can help their children become stronger, more capable, and better prepared for their future.
Perhaps Glenn’s greatest quality was his courage to persevere. The result of his perseverance was a personal resilience that lasted a lifetime.
As parents we would do well to help our children follow Glenn’s example and reach deep into their inner self, find their hidden courage, pull it up, and not let the fear conquer them.
Many people incorrectly assume that resilience is something we are born with; an innate ability to handle stress and the challenges one faces living life. The reality is resiliency is a skill that can be developed. Glenn Cunningham became stronger as he developed his resiliency skills.
The courage to try and persevere is foundational. We believe in you and your ability to be great parents and to provide the love and support your children need. This website is meant as a help to you to help your children grow and become stronger.