Billy Mills, who stunned the sports world by winning the gold medal in the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, will visit Indiana University Bloomington this month on a tour marking the 50th anniversary of his Olympic triumph.
On Nov. 10, Mills will take part in and answer questions at a showing of the 1983 biographical film “Running Brave” at IU Cinema. Robby Benson, professor of practice of telecommunications in the Media School at IU Bloomington, stars as Mills in the film; Benson will also take part in the Q&A session.
The 3 p.m. screening is free but ticketed; tickets are available during business hours at the IU Auditorium Box Office and immediately before the screening at IU Cinema. A reception will follow at the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, 712 E. Eighth St.
Mills will also meet with students and staff from the cultural center and is scheduled to speak to a graduate media class taught by Benson. The visit will reunite Mills and his wife, Patricia Mills, with Benson, who developed a deep respect for the couple while making the film.
“This really is an exciting series of events,” said LaDonna Jessie BlueEye, assistant professor of applied health science in the School of Health-Bloomington and an organizer of the visit. “Billy Mills is an inspiration to so many native peoples, whether they are from reservations or small tribal communities.”
“Billy is one of the finest, most compassionate and purest of heart gentlemen that I have ever met,” Benson added. “I can’t wait to see him and to give him and Pat a hug. They are great people.”
The events are part of Native American Heritage Month, which began over the weekend with the Fourth Annual Traditional Powwow and will include lectures, performances, workshops and other activities. Most of the events are free and open to the public.
Billy Mills, a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, spent his childhood on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Surrounded by poverty and an orphan at age 12, he began running to channel his energy into something positive. He excelled as an athlete at Haskell Institute, an Indian boarding school in Kansas, winning a scholarship to the University of Kansas.
At the 1964 Olympics, he was little known in international track circles and was not expected to be a contender in the 10,000 meters. But he remained close to the leaders and sprinted past favorites Ron Clarke of Australia and Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia at the end to win in 28:24.4, an Olympic record. He remains the only American to win Olympic gold in the 10,000 meters.
After the Olympics, he served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and set U.S. records in the 10,000 meters and 3-mile run and a world record in the 6-mile run.
He helped found and serves as national spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a nonprofit organization committed to addressing physical needs and fostering a sense of hope for American Indian people and building the capacity of native communities. President Barack Obama presented Mills the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal in recognition of his work.
BlueEye, who studies disparities in health and health care among disadvantaged communities, said Mills is a role model for his advocacy and for speaking publicly about managing his diabetes for 50 years.
Her mother, a member of the Choctaw Nation, attended Haskell Institute (now called the Haskell Indian Nations University) at the same time as Mills. “I grew up hearing about Billy and hearing about this great victory,” BlueEye said. “To our people and to Indian people nationwide, he’s truly a great hero.”
Support for Mills’ visit to Indiana University comes from the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs; the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President; the College of Arts and Sciences; and IU Cinema.