Monday, September 10, 2007

Billy Mills

On Thursday during a staff meeting, our principal said that Billy Mills would be coming to present at school today. I must have reacted somehow, because he asked if that was a good thing. I said it was.

For those of you who don't know, Mills is one of the legends of U.S. distance running. In 1964, he became the first American to win an Olympic gold in the 10,000m--and he remains the only American to do so this day. Entering the race, Mills was an also-ran; his best time was nearly a minute off Australian Ron Clarke's world record, and he hadn't even won the U.S. Olympic trials. Stil, he ran with the leaders through the first 3 miles of the race, running just slower than his best-ever time at the distance--with more than 3 miles yet to run. With a lap left, only Mills, Clarke, and Tunisian Mohammed Gammoudi remained in contention. Clarke pushed Mills, and he fell off the pace, nearly defeated. But then he spied an opening, opened up his kick, and made it by Gammoudi and Clarke in one of the most thrilling last laps in Olympic history.

Mills was also born in Porcupine, South Dakota--about fifty miles from here. He is Oglala Lakota and an orphan--like many of my students. One of the stories he told was of a summer off from high school--he attended Haskell Institute, an Indian school in Kansas--when he was working for 12 hours a day building grain silos in Valentine, Nebraska, living in a junked car, and bathing in a creek--and running for an hour every day. It was already his goal to win the Olympics. I hoped that as someone who shared their background, and has since gone on to not only win the Olympics, but also raise over $5 million for the reservation, he would be someone my students would be attentive towards. Unfortunately, they weren't.

I brought my copy of "Running Brave"--the movie about Mills's life--with me to school to have him sign it. I was standing around just before the assembly was supposed to start, wondering where he was. Someone asked, "What have you got there?," and I looked up, and there he was. He signed the DVD and then we chatted for a couple minutes about last month's World Championships, the difficulties in fielding a cross country team at the school, and Mills's current life in California. He is going to be seventy at the end of the school year, but he hardly looks older than fifty. I was even going to get to read the bio before his talk, but then the principal did it instead.

At one point during the presentation, Mills talked about meeting Scottie Pippen and other members of the Dream Team during the 1992 Olympics. Noah leaned over and asked what I thought it might be like to meet the Dream Team. I said that for me it would be kind of like meeting Billy Mills.

1 comment:

Jones said...

Oh man, Boyce. That is awesome! Too bad his stature was lost on probably his most important audience.