Billy Mills

Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills Will Spend a Day With Seattle Native Youth

Richard Walker

SEATTLE – It was Oct. 14, 1964, Tokyo, Japan. Twenty-nine Olympic runners representing 17 nations had set off on the 10,000-meter run, an event in which the United States had medaled only once (Louis Tewanima, Hopi, 1912, silver) but never won.

Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota, was running for the United States and early on was among the runners at the head of the field. “Billy Mills of the United States is in there,” the announcer said on live TV, “a man no one expects to win this particular event.”

Twenty minutes later, the finish line in sight, Mills sprinted past seven runners – including world-record holder Ron Clarke of Australia -- to win the gold medal in what is widely described as the greatest upset in Olympic history.

Mills went on to set U.S. records in the 10,000-meter and the 3-mile, and tied for the world record in the 6-mile. He was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and six other halls. He is the subject of a 1983 movie, “Running Brave,” and had been honored by President Obama, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, and the NCAA.

Today, Mills works with the nonprofit group Running Strong for American Indian Youth, which he co-founded, “to help American Indian people meet their immediate survival needs – food, water, and shelter – while implementing and supporting programs designed to create opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem.”

From 8:30-11:30 a.m. May 30, Mills will join members of two youth groups -- Clear Sky Youth Council and Native Warriors sports program -- in the Seattle Indian Health Board’s SpiritWalk - Walk for Native Health. Clear Sky and Native Warriors are programs of the Urban Native Education Alliance, or UNEA.

Later that day, at 6 p.m., Mills will be the featured speaker at the UNEA’s “Evening of Inspiration” at Nathan Hale High School. The evening is open to the public.

UNEA chairwoman Sarah Sense-Wilson, Oglala Lakota, hopes the young people in Clear Sky Youth Council and Native Warriors will be inspired by Mills’ story – and will realize that they, too, can be catalysts for change.

“Looking at his achievements, it’s not about the gold medal, but what he’s done with it,” Sense-Wilson said of Mills. “He’s devoted his life to his work, and is doing his part [to improve the lives of others]. They have that ability. It doesn’t have to be a gold medal. It can be a college education.”

Watch highlights of one of the most incredible stories in Olympic history as the USA's Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota, wins the 10,000m gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games on YouTube.

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