A crowd of about 300 was deeply moved, some of them to tears, at last month's Collaborative Research Center for American Indian Health (CRCAIH, pronounced “KIRK-uh”) annual summit, when gold medal Olympian Billy Mills, Lakota, talked about values, and how he made a decision to not take his own life.
“I came so close to suicide when I was in college, that I knew I needed a dream that would heal a broken soul. The dream became to be a gold medallist in the 10,000-meter run. I took the culture. I took our traditions. I took our spirituality and I extracted those values in whatever I did. To win the gold medal is very humbling. It’s a gift from the Creator.”
Mills was the guest speaker at the 2014 CRCAIH 2nd Annual Summit, themed "Making Relatives for Community-based Research," co-hosted by Bemidji State University and the Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based CRCAIH, at the Sanford Center in Bemidji, primely location at the center of Minnesota's three largest Indian reservations.
Mills also narrated his historic 10,000-meter race at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as a video of his feat was displayed across two huge screens in the convention center in Bemidji, Minnesota.
"It's not about the destination, but the journey," said Mills.
"I had one guy to beat, a German guy; I was tired and I wasn't sure I could do it. Then suddenly I noticed an eagle on the German guy's back I hadn't noticed before, and it inspired me to win...only to find out later while chatting with the German after the race, that there was no eagle on his back."
"It was a vision," said Mills, and it came to me because of my history, my culture, and because of ceremony. Ceremony is important to us to keep the balance, to move from one phase of life to the next. Indians come back from wars with less PTSD because of ceremony."
This year marked the 50th anniversary of Mills' famous upset.
Mills additionally shared his 50-year struggle with diabetes. Months proir to competing in the Olympics, Mills was diagnosed as borderline type 2 diabetic. Mills offered tips, recommendations and inspiration for managing the illness, like eating plenty of vegetables. Mills once described his breakfast to ICTMN: sauteed veggies. His other virtue: daily exercise.
In the coming months, a health education video featuring Mills called "Conquering Chronic Disease with Olympian Billy Mills," will be available. The video is a product of the Sanford One Care Initiative made possible by a grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid. These efforts are a part of the Sanford One Care program, designed to provide Native people with education materials that are tailored for them, although Billy's message of hope through true grit can motivate audience members regardless of race.