Billy Mills said that when he won the gold medal in the 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, he felt like he had wings on his feet.
I was told the moment was magical. I was told the world had just witnessed the greatest upset in Olympic history unfold, said Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe who was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
However, a sense of victory was not what he gained from sport.
This was the message Mills conveyed as headlining speaker at the 2011 Extraordinary Idea Competition and Entrepreneurship Evening, which was held Tuesday, March 15, at the University of South Dakotas Muenster University Center.
The biggest lessons Mills gained from sport, he said, were through choreographing his personal journey in an effort to make the world better for everyone.
Its the journey not the destination where our empowerment comes from, he said. Theres the 63,000 miles of preparation not winning the gold medal that empowered me. And its the daily choices we make in life not just the talent we possess that choreographs our destiny.
Mills dreams of becoming an Olympian began when he was 9 years old.
Soon after his mother died, he received a book consisting of stories and articles written about the Olympic Games. One of them contained the quote, Olympians are chosen by the gods.
I liked that comment, he said. I wanted to be chosen by the gods, even if they werent the Olympic gods, and it had nothing to do with the Olympic Games.
I thought if I was chosen by the gods I would be able to see my mother again, he said.
After his mothers death, Millss father told him, Son, you have broken wings.
His father then took a stick, drew a circle on the ground and told Mills to step inside the circle, telling him, Im going to share something with you, and if you follow it, some day it you may have wings of an eagle.
Millss father told him to look inside his heart, mind, body and spirit. He said anger and hate were there.
Mills remembered his father told him, Those emotions will destroy you. He said, Look deeper, right down deeper where the dreams lie. Find your dream, son. Its the pursuit of the dream thatll heal you.
His dream of Olympic glory was realized in 1964 after years of hard work and setbacks, including the death of his father when he was 12 and the indifference with which he was treated by some in the sports world.
First three times I made All-American in college, three years in a row, three different cities, three different photographers, Mills said. Three years in a row, Im asked, You, the dark-skinned guy. We want you out of the photo.
Before the conclusion of his gold-winning 10,000-meter performance, Millss spikes were caked with a half-inch of mud and his blood sugar level started to fall. He was in fourth place. He decided to quit.
I was going to quit in the most cowardly way of all, he said.
His plan was to hit the second- and first-place runners Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia, and Ron Clarke of Australia, respectively before dropping out of the race.
He decided against it.
I was not going to hit, Mills said. I was going with dignity, character, beauty, pride, whether I won the race or not. I took off after them, just one more try.
Off the final curve, he decided to catch them and pulled into third place. On the jersey of one of his competitors, he saw what he thought was an eagle, and remembered his father.
Then, Mills said, I felt the tape break across my chest. I thought, I won, I won, I won. The Japanese official came up to me and said, Who are you? I thought, Did I miscount the laps? Did I have one more lap to go?
No, the official said. You are the new Olympic champion.
After the race, Mills said he sought out his opponent, only to find there was no eagle on his jersey.
On the victory stand after receiving his medal, Mills said, I felt my dads voice: Son, you can step out of the circle now. Take the most powerful virtues of our people: Bravery, fortitude, wisdom, generosity.
These virtues along with having a dream are important to everyone, he said.
Every dream has a passion, he said. Every passion has its destiny. Id love to see the young people of the world, through the sponsorship of global corporations, have opportunities for global leadership programs that do not begin with conflict. For understanding, for the betterment of all.
Tuesdays event was hosted by the USD Beacom School of Business Entrepreneurship Team.