Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 27, 2001 - Issue 28



Former 10K Gold Medalist at Chinle


"Your life is a gift from the Creator. Your gift back to the Creator is what you do with your life." -- Billy Mills


by Oree Foster Sports Correspondent Navajo Times


graphics used with permission from  "Running Strong for American Indian Youth®"


Billy Mills' motto is "Follow Your Dreams." In direct eye contact with Chinle High School students, Mills said, "Follow your dreams. Dreams do come true."

He said the road to success is difficult. "Set a goal. When you accomplish the goal, set another goal," he stated. "Be focused, be ready to accept the challenges."

Mills became an orphan when he was young, losing his mother at age nine and his father at 12. He attended boarding school in Lawrence, Kan., where he began running to train for boxing.

Mills developed a love for running and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas in 1959. This gave him an opportunity to leave the Lakota reservation.

He achieved moderate success at Kansas under Coach Bill Easton, but Mills suffered alienation and low self-esteem, brought on by being alone in a white world.

"The challenges were there at Kansas," he said. "There was discrimination. But I didn't quit. I kept on going, because I wanted to become successful."

Mills did not perform to his full potential, until he met his future wife, Patricia Harris, who helped him prepare for challenges ahead.

After earning his bachelor's degree in 1962 from Kansas, Mills enlisted in the Marine Corps as an officer. Mills trained hard for the next two years, running nearly 100 miles per week. Basic training and top-notch training helped him qualify for the 1964 Olympic Games in the 10,000-meter run and marathon.

The competition had the greatest field of distance runners ever assembled including Ron Clarke of Australia, Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia, Naftali Temu of Kenya and Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia.

During the final lap of the race is one of the greatest moments in the history of the Olympics. Mills was pushed and showed into the third lane where he nearly stumbled. He resumed his stride and again was pushed violently.

He regained his stride. Mills trailed by five meters going into the final stretch. Drawing upon previously untapped strength and motivation, he passed Clarke, then Gammoudi, winning the race. Mills' time of 28:24.4 was an American and Olympic record. His extraordinary run was 45 seconds faster than he had ever run before.

Mills' victory is one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history and is the greatest 10,000-meter run achievement in modern times.

For Mills his dream became a reality in 1964.

When Mills broke the tape at the finish line, en route to earning the 10,000-meter Gold Medal at Japan's Tokyo Stadium, he became an American sports hero and a Native American idol.

Before he became the first American to win the 6.2-mile race, Mills, a Lakota originally from Pine Ridge, S.D., was virtually unknown to sports enthusiasts.

Since the 1964 Olympics, Mills has motivated audiences all over the world by teaching people to reach within themselves to draw out capabilities to perform to the ultimate.

Mills tells the important role his wife, Patricia, played in supporting and encouraging him through difficult times. Also how instrumental she was in his Olympic victory.

"The pace nearly broke me and I was full of self doubts," he said. "I kept thinking that if I had to quit, I wasn't going to do it in front of the area where Patricia was sitting. I'd do it at the other end of the field."

But lap after lap, he pressed on, exhibiting the strength that came from the lessons he learned early in life, to achieve victory.

Today Mills is known worldwide. Mills has become a success story because he said he followed his dreams. Mills earned a college degree from University of Kansas, is a Marine Corps veteran, won an Olympic Gold Medal, had a movie (Running Brave) produced on his life history, has raised more than $212 million for the Christian Relief Services program and serves as a motivational speaker, among other accomplishments.

After the Great Spirit took his mother and father, he realized he could utilize the teaching he learned from his parents and become successful.

"I learned a lot from my parents," the 62-year-old Mills said. "My father was a wise man. We shared many things together. When I was growing up, I looked back to what my father was sharing with me. Even today, I look back and it makes a lot of sense. I thank my parents for sharing their wisdom with me."

Running Strong for American Indian Youth




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