Billy Mills Profile

  • Over 50 years later, millions of people are still mesmerized by Mills' dramatic Olympic win in the 10 K.

  • The second Native American to win a gold medal, Mills overcame poverty, racism, and family tragedy to fulfill his dream of becoming an Olympic champion.

  • Turning his victory into an opportunity to help his community, Mills founded Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a non-profit that has provided numerous opportunities and resources to young Native Americans.
  • Gold medalist, Billy Mills wowed the world when he overtook the world’s highest performing runners in the home stretch of the 1964 Olympic 10,000-meter-dash. Mills, who had been given a 1,000 to 1 shot at winning, became the second Native American to win an Olympic gold medal and the only Olympic runner from the Western Hemisphere to ever win the 10,000-meter-dash. The ultimate dark horse, he continues to be one of the most uplifting and emotionally stirring stories in national folklore over half a century later.

    Mills buried his mother when he was 8 and his father when he was 12, but forever remembered the guiding words his father had given him: “now your wings are broken, but someday you’ll have the wings of an eagle.” Following another piece of advice from his father, Mills began to focus on a dream of winning an Olympics race after discovering that running helped him combat the loneliness, anger, and hatred he often felt. Though he won a scholarship to the University of Kansas for running, he was distressed by constant racism. In one instance when posing for a photo with the other winners of a collegiate competition, he was asked by the photographer -who referred to him as “the one with the darkest skin” – to step out of the picture.

    Upon graduation Mills served in the U.S. Marines Corps, eventually becoming a First Lieutenant. The experience boosted his esteem and renewed his desire to pursue Olympic gold. Though he just barely qualified for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the day of his event, he managed to outrun 37 of the world’s top endurance runners including the world record holder and favorite, Australian Ron Clarke. The last seconds of that dramatic race were immortalized on American television when NBC analyst Dick Bank upstaged the play-by-play announcer, screaming, “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” as the unknown Marine suddenly sprinted past Clarke and Mohammad Gammoudi to win gold and set a new Olympic record of 28:24.4.

    Returning to the U.S., Mills took his moment of glory as an opportunity to give back to his community. He created the non-profit organization Running Strong for American Indian Youth, which has raised millions of dollars to benefit Native American communities. Running Strong has built youth centers and three Native-owned dialysis clinics, drilled nearly 500 wells, grown sustainable gardens and created Native language-preservation programs. Mills has received numerous honors including a Presidential Citizens Medal from President Obama, a President’s Council Lifetime Achievement Award, and induction into the Olympic Hall of Fame.

    • View Extended/Alternate Bio

      Olympic Gold Medalist and Native American Leader

      At the 1964 Olympics, Billy Mills shocked the world when he came from behind to win the gold medal in the 10k race. At the time, he set a world record of 28 m 24.4s and he is still the only American to ever win a gold medal in the 10,000 meters.

      Billy was born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Orphaned by the age of 12, he attended Haskell Indian boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas, and began running in order to train for boxing. He developed a love for running and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

      A scholarship to the University of Kansas in 1959 gave Mills an opportunity to leave the reservation and pursue the thing he loved the most. Running while in college, he suffered feeling of alienation and low self-esteem brought about by being alone in a white world. As a result, he performed far below his potential.

      Shattered by self doubt, struggling with feelings of rejection because of his race, Billy nearly lost any and all sense of purpose.

      In a state of emotional disarray, and recognizing that he must put his life together, Billy accepts a commission as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps′. It was the Marine Corps′ recognizing Billy′s talents and rich heritage that empowered his sense of self-worth. His competitive and winning spirit was restored. The discipline and focus he learned in the Marines changed the course of his life. Through the acceptance by his peers and the camaraderie he encountered, Billy Mills learned that he “belonged.”

      Billy overcame these odds and won the Gold Medal in the 10,000 Meter Run. His victory is considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, and some have stated that his performance at Tokyo was the greatest achievement in modern times. Billy set an American and Olympic record of 28:24.4, a mark all the more extraordinary because he ran 46 seconds faster than his previous personal best.

      Since the 1964 Olympics, Billy Mills has shared how he pursued excellence in the world of sports with corporations, associations, universities, and schools. He has inspired thousands of individuals globally to reach within the depths of their capabilities and perform to the greatest of their potential to the betterment of human kind.

      Today Billy is the National Spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth®. An Oglala Lakota (Sioux) who was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Billy earned a track scholarship to the University of Kansas and later served as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps.

      In 1983, Billy′s quest for personal excellence was released on the big screen. Running Brave, starring Robby Benson as Billy, follows Billy from childhood through college, ending with his 1964 victory at Tokyo.

      Billy is also the author of Wokini, A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self -Understanding. This book, first published in 1991 is in its ninth printing world-wide. The co-author is Nicholas Sparks, best-selling author of The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, and A Walk to Remember. In Wokini, Billy writes that he learned positive attributes from his father, who encouraged him to find and explore positive desires, to be self- motivated and to be prepared to work to achieve personal goals.

      Billy holds five honorary Doctorate degrees and has appeared on NBC Nightly News, HBO Real Sports and been featured on the PBS series Indian Pride as well as in the Sports Illustrated Online 2008 Olympic Coverage.

    Billy Mills Speaking Videos

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    Billy Mills's Speech Descriptions

    Gold medalist Billy Mills’ incredible Olympic triumph still gives people chills more than 50 years after he overtook two of the world’s fastest runners in the last 30 yards of the 10,000-meter-dash. Mills discusses how he overcame poverty, racism, and losing his family at age 12 to complete one of the most epic runs in racing history. The champion’s heart-moving tale goes beyond his personal methodology to success to examine how people can rise up against hardship, heal their broken wings, and soar with “the wings of an eagle.”

    Global Unity
    Our world is changing: entire governments have been dismantled, new governments created, existing governments redesigned, universities re-engineered, and businesses reconstructed. Billy Mills shares what remains constant in our ever-changing world and explains how this consistency is our key to global unity.

    He takes his audience on a compassionate and powerful journey through time, weaving stories of his young life as an orphaned Native American child living in poverty and coming face to face with racism, and explains that it was the daily choices he made in life, not just the talent he possessed, that led to his quest for Olympic glory.

    In this powerful presentation, Mills explains that it is the journey, not the destination, that shapes us as individuals and unites us as a people.

    The Pursuit of Excellence
    Sharing his personal schema for success, Billy Mills explains how he has been able to unleash the passion and energy within himself to achieve phenomenal success in sport and life. Recalling his legendary 10,000 meter run—the greatest upset in Olympic history—he outlines his value-based concept on how dreams come true, a system which continues to inspire thousands of individuals across America today.

    Other Topics Include:

      • The High of Self Competition (Motivational/Goal Setting)
      • Battles of Sovereignty on the Home Front Contemporary American Indian Issues and Solutions in The United States (Diversity in Society)
      • Go for the Gold (Motivational)
      • Self Empowerment for Today's Race (Motivational)
      • Winning Spirit (Motivational)
      • Controlling Diabetes: It's the Journey, Not the Destination (Health and Wellness)

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    Books by Billy Mills:

    Lessons of a Lakota
    In this Native American allegory, a young Lakota boy named David is despondent over the death of his sister and fears that he will never know happiness again. His father gives him a gift, a scroll with seven pictures, which properly understood, holds the keys to self understanding. In a deeply moving way, Lessons of a Lakota blends traditional Native American beliefs, with more modern principles such as positive thinking and self awareness. This book will teach you about yourself, show you what it means to be happy, and lead you on your own personal journey to inner peace.

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