Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
Olympic Gold Medal Billy Mills - Lakota
ALLENDALE, MICHIGAN Dressed in a gray pinstriped suit with light blue dress shirt and color coordinated tie, 74 year old Billy Mills, Lakota, looked more like a business executive than the gold medal Olympic winner he is, as he captivated a packed the Cook-Dewitt Auditorium on the campus of Grand Valley State University on Monday.
It was his winning of the gold medal in Tokyo, Japan in 1964 that brought the university's track team and the Allendale High School's track team to hear him speak about being the only American to ever win the gold medal in the 10,000 meter run.
They were not disappointed. Mills spoke for an hour about winning the gold medal, mixed with some Lakota wisdom. Mills told his audience: "It's the journey, not the designation." He spoke of his journey as he mixed in stories about perceptions versus reality. Mills threw in much talk about character, humility bravery and wisdom during his speech.
At the end he graciously stayed behind to talk to each member of the teams individually, as he signed posters, t-shirts, running shoes and even running batons and afforded them opportunities photographs that will last a lifetime for them.
" a man with a healed soul"
Mills, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, lost his mother when he was only 12 years old. Encouraged by his father, running became a means to escape the poverty of the reservation. His father told him: "You need a dream to heal a broken soul."
He took running up at Haskell Institute and became a NCAA All America cross country runner while attending the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship.
Yesterday, he relayed a personal story of being shattered by gross insensitivity he received when photographs were taken of him after winning the All America title. The photographer announced that the needed two pictures taken: One with him and one without him because of the color of his skin.
This act caused Mills to contemplate suicide. He even went out onto a ledge where he thought it will be over soon. He said he heard a voice under his skin that said: "Don't, don't, don't!"
An Audience of All Ages
Another compelling story Mills told was about when he went to Barcelona for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. He was there with his family. There he and his daughter, Billie, overheard a conversation between some journalists who marveled at that year's 10,000 meter run between Khalid Skah of Morocco and Richard Chelimo of Kenya. One of the journalists said it was the greatest 10,000 meter run ever. The other objected and said the 1964 10,000 meter run was the best ever with the Indian who won it. Standing there unrecognized, Mills and his daughter overheard the exchange of words.
They wondered aloud whatever happened to the "Indian" who won the race. One of journalist said: "I know he became an alcoholic like all the rest of the Indians. He was a quitter."
Mills who does not drink alcohol or use drugs eventually told them who he was much to their embarrassment.
“This was very motivating for me, knowing I can make a difference,”
3rd Time Hearing Mills was a Charm for
GSVU Student, Shandiin Church, Potawatomi/Navajo
said Grand Valley State University junior Shandiin Church, Potawatomi/Navajo, who commented it was her their time hearing Mills.
“Every time, he grabs my attention. I love how he takes us back to the moment when he won the gold. There are so many Native kids involved with sports. We can relate to him.”
“He gave a powerful and moving speech,”
commented Nikole LeCompte, president of the Native American Student Association at Grand Valley State University.
“I was honored to be able to introduce him.”
Mills, who dreamed his dream, spoke as a man with a healed soul.
updated November 14, 2012 9:57 am est; posted November 13, 2012 10:57 am est