Mills: Follow your dreams, goals

Not only did Billy Mills almost not make Olympic history, the South Dakota native almost did not live long enough to run the 10,000-meter run in the 1964 Olympics. After finishing third in the AAU Championships, Mills was supposed to take a photo with the first and second place finishers, but was asked by the photographer to stay out of the picture the first two times because he is an American Indian. It was the third time Mills was asked to stay out of a picture after a major accomplishment because of being an American Indian.Mills said the third time got to him. "Perceptions broke me that day," the Pine Ridge native said during a speech last Wednesday night on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion. Mills went back to his hotel room, opened the window, put his knees on the window sill and told himself to let go, but didn't because of something his dad said. "Life is a gift to you from our Creator and what you do with your life is the gift you give back to the Creator," Mills said. "He said choose your gifts wisely." After remembering what his dad would say, Mills got off the window sill, went to the desk and wrote a new goal in life. "I wrote 'gold medal — 10K run. God has given me the ability, the rest is up to me. Believe! Believe! Believe!,'" Mills said. Mills, 71, shared this moment during his speech at the new Muenster University Center. Mills achieved his dream in 1964 at the Tokyo Olympics in the 10K when he came from behind in the last leg of the race to win the gold medal.Not only is he the only runner from the United States to win the Olympic gold medal in the 10K, but he is only runner from the Western Hemisphere to win the race in the Olympics. The 1964 race was voted the second greatest moment in Olympic history.Mills said winning the 10K was a gift to him and since then, Mills has used that gift to help raise $650 million for various organizations such as Christian Relief Services, Strong American Indian Youth, Bread and Water for Africa, International Rescue and Americans Helping Americans. "I just choose to make my life one of opportunity," he said. Mills' speeches have always had an impact on USD runner Kiko Mendoza.Mendoza is part American Indian and from Eagle Butte. He is the only four-time individual cross country champion in South Dakota high school history. Wednesday was the seventh time Mendoza has heard Mills speak, and each time he has gotten something new out of it. "He always has different stories and it's pretty neat, so I always learn something new," Mendoza said. "Listening to him makes me reach for my goals more, make my goals bigger and has pushed me to run harder."USD head cross country coach Dan Fitzsimmons has also heard Mills speak multiple times. Fitzsimmons said Mills has had a major impact on him. "I can't even begin to tell you the impact he has had on my family and on my life since the first time I met him 25 years ago," Fitzsimmons said. "The thing I love hearing about his dreams, because I am a dreamer. I tell my athletes that I hope they have dreams and they will empower them in their journey."Mills is now starting to wind down the number of speeches and presentations he gives. He said he plans to give about 80 more presentations and doesn't have an exact time frame of how long that will take, except he won't be giving them all in one year. But before he stops giving presentations, Mills wants everyone to realize one thing. "My dad told me to always follow your dream and find your passion in life," he said. "Because finding your passion in life will help lead you and choreograph your dream."

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