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Mills' legend creates air of inspiration

August 30, 2008|By ANDREW MASON

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - No Olympic medals will be awarded today at the 5K Race for the Nation in Chambersburg. But don't be surprised to see many of the runners kicking to the finish line as if gold was on the line - like Billy Mills did.

Mills, who came out of seemingly nowhere to win the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, will be the official starter and awards presenter at this morning's 5K. On Friday night, he spoke for about an hour to a large crowd in the Chambersburg Area Middle School gymnasium about the many obstacles and hardships he had to overcome in his improbable rise to glory.

Mills, a Native American and the subject of the 1984 movie "Running Brave," is still the only American to ever win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000.

"Hopefully the kids will take some motivation from this," said Hagerstown Community College cross country coach Brian Ferrari, who brought his team to hear Mills. "It's just great to have the opportunity to listen to someone like that.

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"He's a legend."

Mills was raised in poverty on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. His mother died when he was 8, and his father died when he was 12.

He once wanted to die, too.

After capturing NCAA All-American status in cross country for the third time for the University of Kansas, Mills was asked to step out of a photo shoot with the other top runners that day because he wasn't white. That certainly was not the first time he faced racism, but it was nearly his breaking point.

He said he went back to his sixth-floor hotel room and almost jumped out the window.

"'Don't, don't, don't,'" he said a voice told him, and he listened. He settled down and wrote: "Gold medal. 10,000 meters. Believe, believe, believe."

Three years later, he kicked past Australia's Ron Clarke, the world-record holder, and Tunisia's Mohammed Gammoudi in the final meters to win Olympic gold. It still is considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. Mills' time was an Olympic record and his personal best by nearly a full minute.

"I truly felt that I had wings on my feet," Mills said. "For that one fleeting moment, you're the best in the world."

While that one moment lives on, Mills has moved on.

He said it was "the journey, not the destination" that empowered him, and that the values he took from the track are far more important than any medal.

"Values are sacred, and sports teach life values," he said.

He encouraged everyone to follow their dreams.

"Every dream has a passion. Every passion has its destiny," he said. "My dad challenged me to pursue a dream. Running became my dream, the Olympics my passion."

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