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Gold medal winner fires up audience at CWC event
Sep 2, 2012 - By Joshua Scheer, Staff Writer
In 1964, Billy Mills became the first, and so far only, American to win the 10,000-meter race in the Summer Olympic Games.
In 2012, Mills was the keynote speaker at Central Wyoming College's Convocation, the ceremony marking the start of the academic year.
Mills spoke Thursday to a packed Robert A. Peck Arts Center Theater, although a large number of attendees were not directly related to the college. There were nine buses parked at the college, representing the Lander, Ethete and Arapahoe school districts.
Mills is a member of the Lakota Tribe from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
A video was shown of Mills's upset 10,000-meter win at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. The CWC crowd gave a standing ovation after the clip.
Mills's message, which included anecdotes from his life as an athlete, focused on a variation of the CWC's 2012 theme, "believe."
"It's the journey, not the destination, that empowered me as an athlete," Mills said.
Shortly after his mother died when he was a child, Mills said his father gave him a collection of articles about the Olympics. He read about the Greek belief that athletes are chosen by the gods. He thought if he could be chosen, maybe he could see his mother again.
He talked about how so much of life is dealing with perceptions, both your own and those of others.
"A perception is neither right nor wrong," Mills said.
How a person handles perceptions, either through retaliation, withdrawal or critical thinking, will determine the course of a life, he said.
He told a story of attending an event years later with his daughter in Barcelona, Spain, where two men were talking about Olympic events and began referring to Mills but couldn't remember his name. He said the men kept calling him "the Indian guy," and his daughter encouraged him to speak up.
The men were saying that names didn't matter, because now the former athletes were all quitters, drug addicted and alcoholic.
Mills said he flashed back to a moment after his mother's death when his father talked him through his feelings of hate, anger and self-pity and taught him to embrace the pursuit of a dream.
Back in Barcelona, Mills eventually stood up for himself.
During his gold-medal-winning race, toward the end one of the other runners accidentally shoved him. Mills said he was ready hit the other runner back, knowing he would be disqualified
That would have been the "most cowardly way of quitting," he said.
Feeling numb due to low blood sugar (he is diabetic), Mills realized he might never be this close to a gold again, and he fought through being boxed-in by other racers.
On the back of a German runner's jersey, Mills said he saw the image of an eagle. The eagle was a symbol of strength used by his father. This spurred him further, and he won.
Afterwards, he was going to thank the German for the eagle image.
"There was no eagle," Mills said. "It was simply a perception."
Using these stories, he encouraged students and faculty to seek healing through dreams and to choreograph their own journeys.