“The ultimate is not to win, but to reach within the depths of your capabilities and to compete against yourself.”
- Billy Mills
Born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reserve in South Dakota, Billy Mills did not have the easiest childhood. By the age of 12, he had no parents and was always surrounded by poverty. Despite all of the negativity surrounding him, Billy distracted himself with something that soon turned into a passion- running.
Track soon became more than a hobby for Mills as he started to break numerous records during his high school career which soon spearheaded him to gain a scholarship from the University of Kansas. During his college career, his track team won back to back national championships and Mills was named the NCAA All-American Cross Country Runner three times. After graduating with a degree in Physical Education, Mills joined the US Marine Corps.
In 1964, Mills qualified for the Summer Olympics, held in Tokyo, to run the 10,000 meter and the marathon. Initially, he was unknown and, in the eyes of the experts, was no threat to the crowd favorite, Ron Clarke, who took gold in that event 4 years prior. During the final moments of the race, Mills took gold in a moment that is considered the second greatest moment in Olympic history.
After the games, Billy co-founded the group, Running Strong for American Indian Youth which is focused on supporting American Indian people with basic necessities -- food, water etc. as well as promoting self-esteem and motivation. Through Running Strong, Mills announced the Dreamstarter grant which will provide fifty $10,000 scholarships to jumpstart and empower the dreams of the next generation of American Indians. Today, he travels over 300 days a year to speak with American Indian communities throughout the nation with his main focus on motivating youth to maintain a healthy lifestyle and taking pride in their heritage.
As November serves as National Native American Heritage Month, we are proud to feature Billy Mills for his Olympic accomplishment and his efforts to inspire the American Indian community.
By Tiffany Gonzales, Gladeo League Head Scribe