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December 20, 2007

A Real Sports Hero: Glenn Cunningham

Cunningham_glenn Travis's post about professional athletes brought to my mind a true sports hero, Glenn Cunningham. I first read about him when I was in the 4th grade, how his legs were so badly damaged in a schoolhouse fire that the doctors wanted to amputate them. He begged his mother not to let them do that, though it put his life at great risk (his older brother had died in the same fire). The doctors predicted that he would never walk, but Glenn was determined to do more than that: he was determined to run! 

In the 1930s, he became one of the world's best runners, participating in both the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. Years later, just before he died, he was named one of the greatest athletes who ever appeared in Madison Square Garden. Along with several other famous runners so honored -- many in their 80s and 90s -- Glenn ran a victory lap at the Garden. 

In 1987, I finally had a chance to meet Glenn, and I learned that his athletic greatness was only a small part of his overall heroism. Over the years, Glenn and his wife Ruth took into their home more than 9000 kids -- either those in trouble with the law or those whose parents simply couldn't care for them. (One of his sons once told me that he remembered a time when they had 84 people living in their house!) Eventually, Glenn and Ruth established a youth home in Arkansas, Glenhaven, which continues today as part of his enduring legacy.

Glenn's motto in life was "Never Quit!" -- a philosophy he passed on to his children and grandchildren, many of whom are pastors and missionaries. He was a great runner, but he was an even greater human being. 

We hear so much in the news about the professional athletes who bring nothing but shame to themselves and to their sport. But I know there are many who exemplify the kind of heroism that Glenn Cunningham possessed. So, readers, who would you nominate as a "real sports hero"? 

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