Olympic runner makes date to inspire area kids

Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2003

The Kenaitze Indian Tribe will host Billy Mills on Monday at Kenai Central High School, where he will speak to youth from all over the Kenai Peninsula and beyond about how dreams can come true when you believe in yourself.

"The kids are really excited about it," said Amber Glenzel, the cultural heritage director for the tribe. "It should be good. We have people coming from all over. There are people coming from as far away as Tyonek, Chickaloon and Seward to hear him speak."

Mills is perhaps best known for his upset in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, but his story started long before then.

He was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota an area with an unemployment rate of nearly 80 percent that is continually recognized economically as one of the poorest communities in America.

By the age of 12, Mills was orphaned and sent to boarding schools. In school he became interested in distance running and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas.

He continued cross-country racing throughout his college years. After graduation he continuing running while he served in the Marine Corps. He later went on to make the Olympic team.

In the 1964 Olympics, Mills was entered in the 10,000-meter run, a race which no American had ever won. He was far from a high-profile contender and wasn't expected to place well in the event.

He broke the tape with a new Olympic record of 28 minutes and 24 seconds. His last lap time had been a scathing 59.8 seconds, and his overall time was nearly a minute faster than his personal best in the event.

Mills later said he kept telling himself over and over he could win, and it is this same philosophy that he tries to instill in children today.

"He's an empowering person who can motivate a lot of kids," Glenzel said. "He's a great motivational speaker. He tells people what it takes to succeed. He's adamant about how people, particularly Native people, can achieve anything they want just like he did in 1964."

Mills' story was the basis for the motion picture "Running Brave." Today he is an accomplished businessman, author and national spokesperson for Christian Relief Services. He has helped raise more than $300 million in cash and in-kind donations for charities worldwide.

Mills also has contributed to the Kenaitze Native Youth Olympics and other youth programs since 1994. Last year alone his foundation contributed $20,000, which benefited the tribe in numerous ways, including the purchase of new NYO uniforms worn at this year's games, Glenzel said.

Mills will be met by the Kenaitze drum group, Chuda Cuya, and dance group Jabila'ina when he arrives at Kenai Municipal Airport today. The NYO team also is planning to give a demonstration of its skills during his visit Monday.

"We thought it would be really appropriate for him to see what we're about, since he's given so much to us," Glenzel said.

Mills will speak to children in kindergarten through sixth grade from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and to those in grades seven to 12 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. His lecture is open to the public, and admission is free.

For more information about his visit, contact the Kenaitze Indian Tribe at 283-3633.

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