Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Billy Mills, Legendary Dream Chaser

IT WAS A NAME from my past -- Billy Mills.
Now the legendary Olympic champion might have faded from most people's memory banks, but not to mine. In fact, his name was in the news just a week or so ago when he spoke about chasing a dream to some 175 people, mostly cross-country runners and their parents, in a Chicago area school cafeteria.
"Identify and follow your dream. Every dream has a passion; every passion has a destiny. Find the eagles' wings in you," he told the group. As usual, Mills was inspiring in this age when most so-called heroes have been soiled, from the likes of Michael Vick to an assembly of Hollywood types.
But not Billy Mills.
If you don't recognize the name; he's been an inspiration to an entire nation, but this Oglala Lakota was once just a poor Indian boy, growing up in poverty on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
However, as he is oft to explain, a legendary figure, Crazy Horse, changed his life. So much so that Mills soared like an eagle during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and then embarked on instilling pride in his "nation." Later he would become an author of 'Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Self-Understanding,' which he collaborated with prolific writer Nicholas Sparks of 'Message in a Bottle' fame.
Besides those credentials, he was the subject of a 1983 movie, 'Running Brave,' in which this columnist had a role, and I'll explain about that later on.
But back to Mills and his connection with his hero, the oft-maligned Crazy Horse.
"When I was a nine-year-old youngster on the reservation on Pine Ridge my dad told me of a rumor that Crazy Horse would be carved in our sacred lands. That's the first time I had heard of this great war chief, the spiritual leader among the Lakota, " Mills wrote, adding, "Crazy Horse challenged me to follow my dreams. We've all heard Martin Luther King say, "I have a dream." Crazy Horse is challenging many, many Lakota people to simply follow their dream. He set a pattern for us to follow the dream."
While Crazy Horse has been described as a great warrior, Mills explained, in detail, what his concept of a "warrior" is in four areas from assuming responsibility; never forgetting humility; the power of giving and also centres it around "his or her core of spirituality."
Mills was also clear in describing a warrior's four desires including his or her wanting to be unique; wanting to belong; making a creatuive difference to society; and also wanting to understand and to promote understanding.
As New West Network's Bill Schneider, in a recent article, wrote that Mills' most inspiring moment came in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, when facing unbelievable odds, he passed favorites Ron Clarke and Mohamed Gammoudi like a bolt of lightning to collect the gold medal in the 10,000 meters. ( still carries that incredible footage and its reenactment certainly can be seen in the movie, 'Running Brave').
This was a man, who overcame incredible adversity, as Schneider's article recalled, (Mills) was "living in the back seat of a car during high school ... and dragging home a bed-bug-ridden mattress from a dump to sleep on ... and of being beaten up by his best friends because he refused to get drunk with them ... and more challenges than any of us have ever faced."
Mills, in this age of self-centred glorification, has been an inspiration to generations of youth and in Schneider's article it was never more obvious, for at age of eight after his mother died, his father told him, "son, now you have broken wings, but if you follow your dream, you can have the wings of an eagle."
He is a man of inspiration even in his 60s and is a noble warrior in every sense with a solid background in business plus raising money for charity and also having in the neighbourhood of 75 speaking engagements a year.
In the early 1980s, Mills was the hero of a film called 'Running Brave,' which was shot in Edmonton and near Drumheller, Alta., and starred Robbie Benson in the title role with August Schellenberg as Billy's father and this columnist as a carnival fighter, The Viking.
Although, I didn't get to meet Mills at the time, the film unfolds with a fight scene, in which the father wins, but dies the following day of a heart attack.
One of the most striking parts of Schneider's all-encompassing article, was the fact that since those "glory days" of the 1964 Olympics, Mills certainly hasn't been standing still; inspiring youth throughout the world to "empower yourself," and "don't be a quitter."
SPEAKING OF FLICKS (From Uncle John's Bathroom Reader): Movie -- Ben Hur (1959). Scene -- The chariot scene. Blooper -- A red sports car is driving by the Colosseum in the distance ... Movie -- Gandi (1982). Scene -- Crowd scene. Blooper -- One of the peasants is wearing Adidas tennis shoes.

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