It has been 61 years since his legs were so severely burned in a school-house fire that doctors said he would never walk again, and 31 years since he set a then-startling indoor record for the mile: 4 minutes 4.04 seconds.

Today, Glenn Cunningham, 69, lives on a 40-acre ranch in Plainview, Ark 14 miles from the nearest town, and even farther from the throngs of joggers in the big city.

"I think it's great," said the two-time Olympian of the popularity of running today. "This is a thing I advocated way back in the '30s, but people thought you were crazy then is you went running around.

"But, I think this should be a fun thing, a recreational thing for people.

Everybody doesn't have to be a marathon runner,"

Cunningham,who was here yesterday promoting a June 24 five-kilometer race in Baltimore that is part of a 20-city series sponsored by a soft drink company, reminisced about his career and spoke of his ambitions.

As a high school senior who had developed a strong body working in the Kansas wheat fields, Cunningham stunned his track coach by running the mile in 3:58.9. Few at the time had done it under 4:10.

That was not an official event, however, and it wasn't until 24 years later that Roger Bannister ran the first official sub-four-minute mile.

As a 1932 Olympian, Cunningham finished fourth in the 1,500 meters. In the 1936 Olympics, he placed a close second in the same event to New Zealander Jack Lovelock, who set a world record.

As a student at the University of Kansas and while working on graduate degrees he has a doctorate in education from New York University-Cunningham finished first in 21 of his 31 races at Madison Square Garden.

In New York, Cunningham's foundness for children led him to the city's slums where he worked with the "cellar clubs," gangs of youths, instructing them in basketball and other sports.

After marrying, Cunningham moved eventually to an 840-acre ranch near Cedal Point, Kan., where he farmed and sold livestock for a living-a living that he eventually found could be supported only by outside speaking engagements.

It cost a lot to bring up children in those days and the Cunninghams had 12 of their own. They also took in an estimated 9,000 youths over a 29-year period at the ranch.

"The most we had at one time was 88. Some of them would stay for a couple of weeks and others for seven or eight years," he said. "We had bunk beds stacked all over the place up to the ceiling. Ruth served buffet meals."

The children were largely from troubled homes, referred to the Cunninghams by the courts or by their own families. He estimates he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years supporting them by selling land and cattle.

There were few offers of money and Cunningham says he is constantly borrowing.

The Cunninghams have closed that ranch and moved to Conway, Ark., where they hope to renovate the Hidden Valley Ranch to lodge 40 to 50 children and houseparents.

"My goal is to have a youth ranch in every state," he said. "I'm not finished yet."