Billy Mills was born on June 30, 1938 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. He is Oglala Lakota (Sioux) and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Billy did not have an easy childhood. Surrounded by poverty and orphaned at the age of 12, he started running to channel his energy into something positive. In high school, his gift for running become more apparent as he set records in numerous track events. He went on to earn a track scholarship from the University of Kansas and then served as an Officer in the United States Marine Corps.
At the 1964 Olympics, he shocked the world and came from behind to win the gold medal in the 10k race. At the time, he set a world record of 28 minutes, 24.4 seconds and is still the only American to ever win a gold medal in the 10k event. His win was an upset that has been called the second greatest moment in Olympic history. In Lakota culture, someone who achieves great success has a 'giveaway' to thank the support system of family and friends who helped him achieve his goal. As part of his effort to give back to his community, Billy helped found Running Strong for American Indian Youth® and became the organization's National Spokesperson. Billy was given the Lakota name Tamakoce Tekihila (Loves His Country), and today he travels over 300 days every year visiting American Indian communities throughout the U.S. and speaks to youth about healthy lifestyles and taking pride in their heritage.
Billy was the inspiration for the movie Running Brave. The movie stars Robbie Benson and chronicles the story of Billy's life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the many obstacles he overcame to become an Olympic Champion. Copies are available on the Running Strong store.
Billy and Nicholas Sparks co-wrote the book Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Understanding. Now in its eighth printing, the book uses traditional Indian legends to teach life lessons about gaining happiness. Copies are availalbe on the Running Strong store.
Billy was awarded the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal by President Obama, for his work with Running Strong. The Presidential Citizens Medal is the second highest civilian award in the United States. It recognizes individuals "who [have] performed exemplary deeds or services for his or her country or fellow citizens."
“I am humbled and honored to be recognized by the President in this extraordinary way. The most powerful thing you can give to a child is a dream. I hope every child in Indian Country knows what is possible if you follow your dream.” -Billy Mills, on receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal
Billy is also a devoted husband, father, and grandparent. He has been married to Pat Mills, a talented artist and owner of Studio Tupos, for over 50 years. They are the proud parents of three daughters and many grandchildren.
Would you like to meet Billy Mills?