As the run-up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London has already begun, we wanted to reflect on this extraordinary moment, delivered by a extraordinary man.
It is impossible to watch this video and not get the chills. U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota (Sioux), was supposed to finish in the middle of the pack in the 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Australian Ron Clarke was the world record holder and therefore the favorite. The common wisdom was that Clarke would be challenged by Soviet Pyotr Bolotnikov and New Zealander Murray Halberg. Practically unknown, Mills plotted his way to a gold medal for four years prior to Tokyo, needing to improve his best 10,000 time by two minutes in order to compete with the likes of Clarke, an all but impossible feat to accomplish. Mills kept a daily log of his efforts and worked, methodically, indefatigably, at improving his time. However, after the starting gun went off and the race got underway, it looked as if Clarke would indeed dominate the race. Mills kept it close, but was eventually pushed by Clarke while a third runner, Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia, burst between them. Third place looked to be the best Mills could hope for as he came around the last stretch. Instead, what ended up happening on October 14th, 1964, is still considered one of the greatest moments in Olympic history.
Mills’s many accomplishments on the track are only bettered by his life after his running career was over. Mills and Eugene Krizek co-founded Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a project initiated 25-years ago that’s goal has been 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.”
The project has grown to include programs devoted to food distribution and nutrition, creating water wells, holding various youth programs, working on cultural and language preservation, and housing assistance.
Enjoy the video, and check out Running Strong for American Indian Youth’s site to learn more about this great organization that was built in large part on the hard work, belief, and kindness that is personified by its co-founder and national spokesmen, Billy Mills.