On Wednesday, April 24, 2019, AICHO was visited by Billy Mills, 1964 Olympic gold medalist and co-founder of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization dedicated to helping Indigenous people meet basic needs, as well as to gain autonomy on a communal level. Mills spoke about his turbulent and triumphant journey through life, his charity work, and his motivation, as well as sharing some insights into his vision for the future.
Billy’s mother died when he was just seven years old. Over the next four years, Billy’s father encouraged his son to try many things, building himself around a dream. “You have broken wings,” Billy’s father had told him. “Broken wings of an eagle.”
When Billy’s father died Billy was only twelve years old, and the trauma of the experience had a profound effect on him, pulling him deep into depression. He was also diagnosed as hypoglycemic, but this did not stop his career or hold him back, and at 26 found himself blazing down the track at the Olympic games. As the runner behind him turned for a moment, the eagle on his jersey flashed in his eyes. “I might never have been that close again; I had to do it then,” recounted Billy, and the wings of eagle overtook him, pushing him to the finish line and the Olympic gold medal. “There were two races,” he added. “The first was to heal a broken soul, and I healed a broken soul. The second I was lucky enough to win as well.”
In a deep and rousing speech, Billy recounted this story, his efforts for social change and worldwide acceptance post-Olympics, and his vision of a more tolerant and equitable world for all people. “ We need to listen to the women, to the young people of color in our community,” he exclaimed. “That’s what America needs today.” Billy’s work with Running Strong for American Indian Youth connected him with AICHO, and his visit concluded on Friday. He was a calming and charming personality and drew in those around him to tell his stories on a more personal level before his speech. To learn more about Running Strong and hear Billy’s full story visit http://indianyouth.org and click on the About Us section to see learn what you can do to help heal a broken soul.