Legendary distance runner Billy Mills, whose performance at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics catapulted him to global fame, is receiving a special honor close to home.
Mills, who captured the gold with an amazing finish in the men’s 10,000 meters in Tokyo, is among a quartet of 2017 inductees for the Sacramento Walk of Stars. The ceremony will take place on Sept. 28 on L Street in the California capital. He resides in Fair Oaks, California, in Sacramento County.
The other Walk of Stars inductees are Tower Records founder Russ Solomon, best-selling author Nicholas Sparks and former WNBA star Ruthie Bolton, who played for the Sacramento Monarchs.
A longtime advocate for healthy living and cultural awareness for Native Americans, Mills, a United States Olympic Hall of Fame inductee, was a co-founder of Running Strong for American Indian Youth in 1986 along with Eugene Krizek, the president of Christian Relief Services, and has been a tireless spokesman for the organization.
Mills regularly travels more than 300 days a year visiting American Indian communities and reservations to speak to youth while promoting pride in their native cultures. The organization also provides health and housing assistance for Native American communities.
Mills, who turned 79 on June 30, was honored by President Barack Obama with the 2012 Citizens Medal. In February 2013, he was one of 18 Americans selected by Obama out of more than 6,000 submissions, according to a press release issued by the White House. It is the nation’s second-highest civilian honor. The award honors the Americans for “(performing) exemplary deeds of service for their country and their fellow citizens,” Obama said.
Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, is the only American runner to capture the 10,000 gold at the Olympics. He accomplished the feat by shocking Tunisia’s Mohammed Gammoudi, who’s now 79, and the late Australian legend Ron Clarke down the final stretch.
In conversations with The Japan Times in recent years, Mills has expressed a desire to attend the 2020 Tokyo Games. He was also a vocal supporter of Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid.
“My wife Patricia and I look forward to returning to Tokyo, where in 1964 I won the Olympic 10,000-meter run,” Mills said in an August 2013 interview. “More importantly, I became a member of the global Olympic family (there) and it was where we started our sacred journey of global unity through global diversity. A journey that has taken us to 106 beautiful countries around the world and over 1,000 tribal nations as we search for the horizon to the future and empowerment for humanity.”
Reflecting on his life’s work and the mission of Running Strong, Mills had this to say in a Saturday email to The Japan Times: “For the past 31 years, Running Strong has been helping American Indian people meet their immediate survival needs — food, water and shelter — while implanting and supporting programs designed to create opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem.
“We have made a tremendous difference in the lives of countless native people,” he went on. “Fifty years after winning my Olympic gold medal I wanted to find a way to address another aspect of poverty: the poverty of dreams, which robs native youth of their ability to imagine what the future might hold.
“So, on Oct. 14, 2014, the 50th anniversary of my gold medal win, we announced our new Dreamstarter program which jumpstarts dreams for Native youth. Starting in 2015, we are choosing 10 talented young dream starters each year to receive $10,000 grants for projects to help bring their dreams to life. Each Dreamstarter partners with a nonprofit that provides mentorship and project management support.”
He added: “In total, we will award fifty $10,000 grants over five years to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my 10,000-meter Olympic victory. At the end of the fifth year, we will award 10 of the 50 Dreamstarters with $50,000 grants so the footprints they have laid on mother earth will continue to break the cycle of a poverty of dreams.”
The work is satisfying and making a big difference in the lives of Native American youth, Mills noted.
“The extraordinary humanitarian success of Running Strong for American Indian Youth plays a major role in my being one of the Walk of Stars recipients,” he said. “For me, it’s a moment in a lifetime that began when I chose to pursue winning an Olympic gold medal to heal a broken soul. I humbly accept this honor on behalf of my Running Strong family, whose commitment, passion and love continues to inspire me.
“I also say thank you again, to the many Japanese citizens, my wife, Patricia, and I shared the 1964 Tokyo Olympics experience with. Your beauty, strength, humility and kindness still inspires me to be a better person. …
“To the community of Sacramento, California, you have welcomed me, Patricia and daughters to your beautiful community since 1973. Our most sacred memories of family and love have been nurtured here. We are home. Thank you, Sacramento.”