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Writer Richard Bach says, “Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” I don't always see that gift, I admit. But I remember reading about Glenn Cunningham when I was a child. His life bore the truth of it...every problem indeed has a gift for you. The trick is learning to find it.
In 1916 young Glenn and his brother Floyd were involved in a tragic accident. Their school's pot-bellied stove exploded when the boys struck a match to light it. Somebody had mistakenly filled the can with gasoline instead of kerosene. Both boys were severely burned and had to be dragged from the schoolhouse. Floyd died of his injuries and doctors predicted that Glenn would be permanently crippled. Flesh and muscles were seared from both of Glenn's legs. His toes were burned off of his left foot and the foot's transverse arch was destroyed. Their local doctor recommended amputation of both legs and predicted that Glenn would never walk again. He told the boy's mother that it may have been better had he died.
Glenn overheard the remark and decided that day that he WAS going to walk, no matter what. But he couldn't climb from a wheelchair for two years. Then one day he grasped the white wooden pickets of the fence surrounding his home and pulled himself up to his feet. Painfully he stepped, hanging onto the fence. He made his way along the fence, back and forth. He did this the next day and next – every day for weeks. He wore a path along the fence shuffling sideways. But muscles began to knit and grow in his scarred legs and feet.
When Glenn could finally walk he decided he would do something else nobody ever expected him to do again – he would learn to run. “It hurt like thunder to walk,” Glenn later said, “but it didn't hurt at all when I ran. So for five or six years, about all I did was run.” At first it looked more like hopping than running. But Glenn ran everywhere he could. He ran around the home. He ran as he did his chores. He ran to and from school (about two miles each way). He never walked when he could run. And after his legs strengthened he continued to run, not because he had to, but now because he wanted to.
If there was a gift in the tragic accident, it was that if forced Glenn to run. And run he did. He competed as a runner in high school and college. Then Glenn went on to compete in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics. He set world records for the mile run in 1934 and 1938. By the time he retired from competition, Glenn amassed a mountain of records and awards.
“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” And if not every problem, then just about every one. Even spectacular sunsets are not possible without cloudy skies. Troubles bring a gift for those who choose to look. And since I can't avoid my problems, why waste them? I should look for the gift. My life will be far, far richer for finding it.
– Steve Goodier
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