I just recently learned the story of Glenn Cunningham from Chicken Soup for the Soul, a book written by Mark Hansen and Jack Canfield. Cunningham's creative-will story moves me to tears.

Q: Have there been any discussion on the correspondence between the story of Forrest Gump and the true story of Glenn Cunningham? Where can I find the discussion in the literature or websites?

For people who are not familiar with Glenn Cunningham:

The little country schoolhouse was heated by an old-fashioned, pot-bellied coal stove. A little boy had the job of coming to school early each day to start the fire and warm the room before his teacher and his classmates arrived.

One morning they arrived to find the school house engulfed in flames. They dragged the unconscious little boy out of the flaming building more dead than alive. He had major burns over the lower half of his body and was taken to the nearby county hospital.

From his bed the dreadfully burned, semi-conscious little boy faintly heard the doctor talking to his mother. The doctor told his mother that her son would surely die - which was for the best, really - for the terrible fire had devastated the lower half of his body.

But the brave boy didn’t want to die. He made up his mind that he would survive. Somehow, to the amazement of the physician, he did survive. When the mortal danger was past, he again heard the doctor and his mother speaking quietly. The mother was told that since the fire had destroyed so much flesh in the lower part of his body, it would almost be better if he had died, since he was doomed to be a lifetime cripple with no use at all of his lower limbs.

Once more the brave boy made up his mind. He would not be a cripple. He would walk. But unfortunately from the waist down, he had no motor ability. His thin legs just dangled there, all but lifeless.

Ultimately he was released from the hospital. Every day his mother would massage his little legs, but there was no feeling, no control, nothing. Yet his determination that he would walk was as strong as ever.

When he wasn’t in bed, he was confined to a wheelchair. One sunny day his mother wheeled him out into the yard to get some fresh air. This day, instead of sitting there, he threw himself from the chair. He pulled himself across the grass, dragging his legs behind him.

He worked his way to the white picket fence bordering their lot. With great effort, he raised himself up on the fence. Then, stake by stake, he began dragging himself along the fence, resolved that he would walk. He started to do this every day until he wore a smooth path all around the yard beside the fence. There was nothing he wanted more than to develop life in those legs.

Ultimately through his daily massages, his iron persistence and his resolute determination, he did develop the ability to stand up, then to walk haltingly, then to walk by himself - and then - to run.

He began to walk to school, then to run to school, to run for the sheer joy of running. Later in college he made the track team.

Still later in Madison Square Garden this young man who was not expected to survive, who would surely never walk, who could never hope to run - this determined young man, Dr. Glenn Cunningham, ran the world’s fastest mile! On June 16, 1934, Glenn Cunningham ran the mile in 4:06.8 minutes, breaking the world’s record.

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    A cursory Google search turns up a few similar questions, but nothing definitive (in my searching) yet. Great question, even though I'm not a fan of the movie. (Sorry.) Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 4:14
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    Hate to be a pain, but is this on-topic, seeing that Forrest Gump was a novel first?
    – Walt
    Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 8:30
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    @Walt It is a movie. Many movies are novels or stories first. Don't open that can of worms. We're still in gorram beta. Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 10:26
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    @MeatTrademark I said that because the OP was asking if Forrest Gump's story was influenced by the true story of Glenn Cunningham, and Forrest Gump's story originated in the novel. However, I take it back, because I don't think the leg braces and the 'run, Forrest, run' scene of overcoming them exist in the novel, so it's certainly on-topic. Sorry about that, Idear.
    – Walt
    Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 10:51
  • @Walt Man, I don't know anymore. On and off topic are getting hard to tell. No worries. I'm going to shut up now. Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 10:59

1 Answer 1


The book was mostly based on Jimbo Meador, a friend of the author. However, bits of it were also taken from other people, such as Sammy Lee Davis, who was awarded the Medal of Honor and was, indeed, shot in the butt. In fact, the Medal of Honor scene in the movie used archival footage of Lee receiving the award, with Forrest instead of Lee, thanks to a little Hollywood magic. The concept of running across the US was taken from Louis Michael Figueroa, a High School Sophomore who raised money by running across the US for a young cancer patient he had met. In fact, the quote used in the film, “When I got tired, I slept. When I got hungry, I ate. When I had to go, you know, I went.”, was verbatim from Figueroa.

The book was meant to convey the message that one man can make a difference, and perseverance pays off. In order to do that, multiple stories had to be combined into the life of one person. Other stories were made up, and the idea of someone "willing themselves to walk" isn't very original. It's happened many times with many people, and there's no indication that the author specifically recounted Cunningham's story.

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