Olympic Legend Billy Mills Visits Fond du Lac

May 15th, 1995 | By | Category: 7-1: Tribal Colleges Looking to the Future, Tribal College News
By Jennifer Gray Reddish

Billy Mills’ May visit to Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College was declared a great success by college officials. The 1964 Olympic 10,000 meter gold- medal champion’s appearance highlighted a month-long celebration of National Fitness and Sports Month at the college.

He was the perfect choice for a guest of honor. His vic­tory made him a hero to all Americans—but particularly to Indian people.

Mills was invited by Fond du Lac Family and Child Education (FACE) program after members met with him at a conference for Native educators in San Diego. During his visit to the college, Mills led a 5K walk and gave a motivation­al lecture to students at the college. Mills’ tour also included a visit with the Cloquet and Duluth Public Schools and the Fond du Lac Ojibwe School.

Candance Barnack, dean of the college, measures the event’s success through the number of participants in the 5K walk led by Mills—they ran out of the 75 t-shirts to be given to participants—and the excitement on students’ faces during his talks.

While other motivational speakers leave people with a fleeting high, Mills tells “Indian people that they can achieve their goals if they’re determined and work hard. You have to commit yourself to change. You have to carry the torch yourself,” says Barnack.

Mills also speaks from the heart and personal experi­ence. Before his monumental race, Mills, a Lakota Sioux, lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He was often ridiculed and ignored because of his heritage even though his running ability was apparent in high school, the University of Kansas and the Marine Corps.

His story was brought to the big screen in the 1984 production, Running Brave but the story stops with the medal win. Mills has continued his dedication to track and field—and American Indian peoples. Today Mills is an entrepreneur, father and community leader. He also is an active fund-raiser with his charity, Running Strong for American Indian Youth.

As Barnack says, “From an educator’s point of view and that of just a regular person in the community, Mills comes across as very honest, direct and challenging. We’re glad he came to our community.”

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