Billy Mills, who rocketed to the world stage when he won a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics, will be a medal winner again this week when he meets with President Barack Obama.
On Friday, the Pine Ridge native will be in Washington, D.C., to receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second highest civilian award.
"I am humbled and honored to be recognized by the president in this extraordinary way," the 74-year-old Mills said. "The most powerful thing you can give to a child is a dream. I hope every child in Indian Country knows what is possible if you follow your dream."
Mills had big dreams of his own when he qualified for the Olympics in the 10,000-meter race even though he was given virtually no chance of winning a medal. He made history, however, when he came from behind in the final 200 meters to beat the world record holder at the time, Ron Clarke of Australia.
Mills, the only American to ever win a gold medal in that event, went on to set seven U.S. track and field records and was co-holder of the 6-mile world record.
Since his athletic successes, Mills co-founded and has become the national spokesman for the Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization, a nonprofit agency that works to strengthen Native American communities.
Lauren Haas Finkelstein, Running Strong's executive director, said Mills, who now lives in Fair Oaks, Calif., continues to give back to his culture through his work with the organization.
"In Lakota culture, someone who achieves great success has a 'give away' to thank the support system of family and friends who helped him achieve his goal," she said. "For decades, as Running Strong's national spokesperson he has traveled tirelessly to impart his message of inspiration and opportunity based on dignity, character and pride to American Indian children and their families."