We had the honor of meeting Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills and attending a screening of Running Brave, a film about his life, this weekend.
Billy’s story is unique—he overcame tremendous obstacles to achieve his goal of winning in the Olympics. “A member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, Mills was brought up in impoverished circumstances in the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota. Orphaned at the age of 12, he nurtured his talent for running and boxing in his formative years and gained a place at the University of Kansas, where he won numerous cross-country races. Graduating with a degree in Physical Education, he then won at Tokyo 1964.”
This past August my husband and I visited the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and discovered the shocking health and well-being realities for those living on the reservation:
- 80 percent of residents are unemployed.
- 49 percent of residents live below the federal poverty line.
- 61 percent of residents below the age of 18 live below the poverty line.
- The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is located in Shannon County, where its per-capita income makes it the second poorest county in the United States, at $6,286.
- The infant mortality rate is five times higher than the United States national average.
- Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease occur in epidemic proportions on the Pine Ridge.
- Native Americans’ rate of amputations related to diabetes is three to four times higher than among the general United States population.
- Death rates due to diabetes among Native Americans are three times higher than among the general United States population.
- Life expectancy on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is the lowest anywhere in the western hemisphere, except for Haiti. A recent study found the life expectancy for men to be 48 years, and for women it is 52 years.
“Every passion has its destiny” Billy Mills
Billy’s story is also inspiring. Originally interested in boxing, running became his focus and he remained determined to achieve his dream of winning in the Olympics in spite of his amazing circumstances. He experienced several hardships but persevered to achieve his goals. We can learn so much from Billy:
- Stay focused on your goals but be prepared to change your goals as you learn and grow
- Work hard and be prepared
- Learn from your experiences and apply learning to other situations in your life
- Give back – figure out what you can do that aligns with your values and incorporate giving into your life!
Billy’s Current Activities:
Billy Mills remains active in Native American causes today. He uses his speaking skills as an advocate for and a role model to young Native Americans. He is the national spokesman for Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, a non-profit organization that help communities with self-sufficiency programs, youth activities and cultural identity projects. As the national spokesman for Christian Relief Services, he has helped raise more than $212 million in contributions.
In 1991, Billy wrote Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Understanding with Nicholas Sparks, now in its fourth printing. He and his wife Patricia live in Sacramento, California, where Mills owns and operates Billy Mills Speakers Bureau.