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Billy Mills — September, 2014
Billy Mills won the Gold Medal in the 1964 Olympic 10,000 meter run in Tokyo, Japan with an Olympic and U.S. Record time of 28:24.4, the only Olympic 10,000m Gold Medal ever won by a U.S. athlete. In 1965 Billy set the World Record for 6-miles of 27:11.6. He won the 1965 AAU 3-Mile in an American Record 13:25.4 and set the U.S. record for 10,000m of 28:17.6. Billy raced collegiately for the University of Kansas where he won the 1960 Big Eight Cross Country title, was a 3-time All-American and a member of the Jayhawks 1959 and 1960 NCAA Track and Field Championship teams. After college, Mills entered the United States Marine Corps and was a First Lieutenant in the Reserves during the 1964 Olympics. His personal best times include: 5000m - 13:41.4; 10,000m - 28:17.6 and marathon - 2:22:55. Billy was inducted into the United States National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1976, Olympic HOF in 1984, Sports Humanitarian HOF in 1997 and National Distance Running HOF in 1999, in addition to the Kansas HOF, South Dakota HOF, San Diego HOF, and National High School HOF. Orphaned at age 12, he is a member of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) Tribe. ‘Running Brave,’ a film version of Mills’ life was released in 1983. Since the mid-1980s Billy has been the Spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth for which President Obama awarded him the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal. He co-wrote the book ‘Wokini: A Lakota Journey to Happiness and Understanding.’ He resides in Fair Oaks, California with his wife, Pat, of 52 years. They have four daughters, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Billy was extremely kind to spend three hours on the telephone for this interview in September, 2014.
GCR:Billy, first, thank you so much for granting this in-depth interview. It’s hard to believe that this year marks 50 years since you won the 1964 Olympic 10,000 meter in Tokyo, Japan. With five decades of reflection, what does the Olympic race and victory mean to you?
BMThe pursuit of the Olympic Games was the pursuit of two things. I wanted to make the Olympic team and I wanted to win a Gold Medal. In many, many ways, looking back I was really running to heal a broken soul. I remember my dad telling me that I had broken wings, but that if I did certain things in my life one day I would have the wings of an eagle. I remember the last ninety meters thinking, ‘I may never be this close again. I’ve got to do it now.’ The umbrella thought was, ‘I’m going to win, but I may not get to the finish line first.’ So in many ways I was contradicting myself. But as time went by I realized that was the most important race and I was going to heal a broken soul. In the process I had the chance to win an Olympic Gold Medal and I was blessed that I got both. The fiftieth anniversary is a sacred moment for my wife and me, because it was a gift.
GCR:Could you compare what you thought beforehand it would mean to win the Gold Medal versus how being Olympic Champion has allowed you to inspire and give to others over the course of your life? Has the ability to encourage others meant even more than what that day did for you personally?
BMI truly felt that moment was a gift to me. Obviously I orchestrated it. I choreographed it. But when it happened I truly felt it was a gift. And in the Native American culture if you have been given a gift you have to give back. The elders of the day would ask me, ‘Billy, when are you going to have your giveaway?’ We had pow-wows and I gave as much back as I could, but I didn’t know exactly how to do so as people had inspired me worldwide. So I didn’t know how to do the traditional giveaway. My wife said that I talked much about those who inspired me, so why shouldn’t I take that inspiration and pass it along to another generation? With that in mind we tried to orchestrate a giveaway. We wrote a book that nobody’s published – they call it a poor attempt at ‘War and Peace.’ I didn’t know how to end a book and it got thicker and thicker. My wife took charge and said we were going to do a movie and ultimately a band of Cree Indians in Alberta, Canada invested in the movie called, ‘Running Brave.’
GCR:The 1983 movie ‘Running Brave’ allowed your story to be viewed and heard by a huge audience. What are some personal examples of its influence and appeal?
BMThat movie has been in 32 countries and even today we get letters and phone calls, we travel worldwide because my wife teaches art on the Crystal Cruise Line and when we get off ship strange things happen where she meets somebody like this lady was giving her a massage in South Africa and the lady was Tibetan, born in northern India. She was telling Pat about her life as a tribal person and said, ‘I’m boring you with my tribalism.’ Patricia said, ‘You’re not boring me. My husband is a tribal person.’ When she asked what tribe, Pat said, ‘He’s a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation in the United States of America.’ The girl said, ’Oh my God… Billy Mills.’ How in the world would she happen to know except her older brother showed her family the movie, ‘Running Brave,’ simply because her father was trying to control her life and choose who she married. Her older brother said she has the right to fall in love and to have children with whom she marries and whom she loves. She also has the right and responsibility to educate herself, to make the world a better place and to empower women. She said, ‘My brother showed me father the movie, ‘Running Brave,’ to show how other tribal people worldwide in their own world had made a difference that had an impact. Ultimately her father agreed that she had the right to choose her destiny. So the giveaway was so far more special than winning the Gold Medal. Winning the Gold Medal just had multitudes of people helping me with inspiration along the way – many not even knowing they inspired me.
GCR:What a great story. Would you please share one more story on how this movie inspired others?
BMA friend of mine is Dr. Hussein Haleem from the Maldives Islands, a two-time Olympian. When we met he told me that the movie on my life saved his life and he wanted to be an Olympian. He said that his father was teaching him virtues and values like my father was teaching me virtues and values. My father died, his father died. His father was teaching him to love his fellow man, but his teacher at the time was teaching him to hate the Jew and the Christian, the infidel. But he couldn’t hate. He was trying to follow what his father was teaching. The school teacher showed him the movie, ‘Running Brave.’ He watched it seventy times and it saved his life. His father died and he was given a new teacher. He told us that if his father was alive today he would be the age of me so he has adopted Pat and me as an auntie and uncle for the past twenty-nine years. He said today I’m a two-time Olympian and Billy’s a one-time Olympian. Billy has the Gold Medal and I finished second to last twice in the marathon. But that isn’t what I took from sport. Today he has friends who are Jewish and Christian that he respects and some he has love for. He said that he didn’t know if I was Christian or followed my Native American spirituality. That wasn’t important.
GCR:Let’s talk about the time leading up to the 1964 Olympics. You finished second to 17 year old Gerry Lindgren in the Olympic Trials 10,000 meters as the two of you evidently worked together for part of the race. How exciting was it to make the U.S. team and to be an Olympian?
BMThose were the days before there were so many changes in America. Those were the days when we had a political party system, a two-party system working to make America great, not their party. That concept has also gone into sport which has become such a business. It’s rightly so and I support that, but they are missing a tremendous opportunity to feel that compassion of wanting to represent your country. I wanted to represent the United States of America. I wanted to wear the uniform. It might sound naïve to today’s athletes, but it was such a driving force. For example, all of the treaties the Tribes signed with the United States Government were broken by the United States. But that was another agenda for me to help make America better through other ways as I matured. I tried to solidify the country. At that point in life I wanted to be a Marine. When I graduated from college I was commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps. I wanted to make the Olympic team. Those were two of the main goals in my life. Underlying all of that I came so close to suicide my junior year in college. It had nothing to do with the University of Kansas. It was just the major changes America was going through. There were restaurants that I couldn’t go into and the racism I was facing was extremely difficult. But yet, there was the pride of wearing the United States Marine Corps uniform, there was the pride of wearing the United States Olympic uniform if you make the team. In that process I saw these 17 year old high school kids. Bruce Kidd, from Canada, and Gerry Lindgren, from the U.S., were two of the top in the world. I thought, ‘If they can do it, maybe I have a chance.’ Bruce Kidd inspired me and Gerry Lindgren inspired me.
GCR:How did your having to deal with hypoglycemia affect your training and racing and make it more difficult to race at your best?
BMI found out in 1963, eleven months before the Olympic Games, that I was hypoglycemic. I would get low blood sugar and I was diagnosed as borderline diabetic. There were no medical persons I could turn to who could help me to deal with hypoglycemia. Today it’s very simple. You eat every three hours. I ate four to four and a half hours before every competition which was just the way we did it. In cross country they would feed us a bowl of oatmeal, brown sugar, raisins, toast small orange juice and a glass of milk. If I did this now it would totally destroy me as a diabetic, but that is the meal we had in college. When I graduated from college and was diagnosed as hypoglycemic, I started experimenting with foods. I ate more protein and less carbs. On occasion I would get it right and I felt so powerful. When I got to the Games I had a fairly tight control over how as a borderline diabetic and hypoglycemic I could put my body in the best shape on October 14th, 1964. That one date was my whole career right there.
GCR:You also dealt with prejudice, depression and suicidal thoughts. How did you move past these difficult personal issues?
BMI came so close to suicide my junior year in college. It took me years to share this as I was ashamed and thought it was weakness. But I was going to jump from the fourth floor and I can’t recall where it was. It was a national cross country meet, I think in East Lansing, Michigan. I was asked to get out of a photo of the top five athletes. There were four foreigners going to school at U.S. colleges and I was the only American, but I took it as racial. It might have been racial, but today I am beyond that. But I broke. I remember thinking, ‘I’m alone now. It will all be over.’ I didn’t hear through my ears. There was just energy in my body. There was a fear of me not wanting to do it, but feeling it was the best thing to do. There was movement in my body – just energy. And I felt like I was hearing my dad’s voice saying, ‘Don’t.’ I recalled how my dad told me when I was nine that if I did certain things one day I would have wings of an eagle.
GCR:So, your dad’s voice steadied you, even though he had taken his spiritual journey years earlier?
BMI took a pad and wrote down a dream. I wrote down ‘Make the team in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and marathon.’ I just started thinking in terms of making the team in all three events. This is when I was a 30:10 runner for 10,000 meters. There were some days a couple of days before or after a race where I felt that no one in the world could beat me. What do I have to do to coincide that moment with the day of the race? So, I experimented. I did my hard workouts a little closer to the meets and rested up for the hard workouts because I found that was working. When I ran a hard race, two days later – boom – I felt like I could beat anyone in the world. I started adjusting those things.
GCR:Let’s focus on the 1964 Olympic Trials. Did you run your best that day, even though you ended up in second place?
BMI should have won the Trials. When Gerry accelerated I’d go with him, then he would ease up and I would accelerate. I felt like we were beating each other up. I looked back and Ron Larrieu had fallen back in third place. Doug Brown, from Montana, had faded even further back. He was still in the race, but there was no way he could catch Gerry or me. I had made the team in the marathon earlier, so I was thinking, ‘Oh my God – I’ve made the team in two events.’ And I started celebrating. Gerry took off and I let him go. I celebrated that I made it and could wear the U.S. uniform twice. I thought, ‘I made it! I made it!’
GCR:What was the sense of celebration like in the L.A. Coliseum after the 10,000 meters?
BMWe finished and they were giving Gerry a standing ovation in the L.A. Coliseum. He waited for me and we started jogging a lap and I wanted Gerry to know that standing ovation was for him. So, I grabbed his hand and I raised it up. We continued jogging and he was trying to pull his hand down. He was a shy young kid. Then he made a comment… he said, ‘Billy, I made that one final move. I had no more moves left in me. If you had covered me I wouldn’t have been able to handle it.’ I thought, ‘this young kid it so innocent. What he told me is so powerful.’ In my mind I thought, ‘I won’t let that happen in Tokyo. I have to cover every move that’s thrown. But I’ve got to cover on my terms.’ In other words I started doing that with Gerry. He would make a move of at most 180 yards. And within ten yards I would make my move which would be about 330 yards. He’d get ahead of me and then slow down. I’d catch him, go around him and keep going. He told me that if I did it one more time he wouldn’t have been able to cover it, so that was so powerful I wasn’t going to let that happen in Tokyo.
GCR:Gerry Lindgren hurt his ankle and was unable to race his best in the Olympic final. When I interviewed Gerry two years ago he told me that for the last day and a half before the race you were very excited and kept saying, ‘I can win the Gold Medal.’ From where did you get this confidence?
BMI would visualize, though we called it self-hypnosis back then. In 1963 I started visualizing that for one moment in time I could be the best in the world. I knew what moment in time I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be the Olympic 10,000 meter run.
GCR:Speaking of Gerry hurting his ankle, didn’t this occur while the two of you were on a training run?
BMWe were running and when Gerry twisted his ankle, I immediately said that we should go back and get it treated. But this young, innocent kid was emphatic,’ No, no! I’m fine.’ To get him back so that he could get his ankle treated I told him that I had run far enough and I needed to get back. So I led him back ad he followed me. Otherwise we were going to continue running. I encouraged him to get it treated right away.
GCR:What did you do in training to be at peak physical and mental preparation so you could race your absolute best in Tokyo?
BMI got to Tokyo and I put in three of my hardest workouts ever leading up to the race. I started six months before putting down in my workout books, ‘Gold Medal. 10,000 meter run. God has given me the ability. The rest is up to me. Believe. Believe. Believe.’ In my workout books I have about thirty or so affirmations where I put down, ‘Gold Medal.’ I reviewed my workout books two days before the Olympics. I went back through a whole year of workouts. I wrote down that ‘I can win the Gold Medal, I can run 28:25 and on a given day that should be fast enough to win the 10,000 meter run.’ I was totally confident that I could win. I’ve only been that way in two races but in the other race I got low blood sugar early. In the Olympic race I went low blood sugar with about 300 meters to go. That’s why I let them go and backed off and thought I’d make one final effort to catch them at the end.
GCR:Did any other U.S. athletes get you pumped up to race strong?
BMDon Jeisy did. He had made the team in the decathlon and he was also a Marine Corps officer. We lost Don about six years ago to cancer. Don had about eleven months on me in the Marines and I think he was a First Lieutenant, while I was a second Lieutenant. Don came up to me and said, ‘Billy, I had this weird dream. I dreamt you won the 10,000 meter run.’ I didn’t surprise me. Talk about a zone – a golfer gets in a zone and shoots a 59. I was in this zone. When he told me he dreamt I won, I had this feeling because I knew I was going to win. But at the same time it was the feeling that I may not get to the finish line first, but I was going to win. I was running two races – trying to heal a broken soul and trying to win an Olympic Gold Medal. Combined, that felt so powerful. Throughout the day I was thinking positive.
GCR:Just as positive thoughts keep us ready to excel, negative thoughts do the opposite. Were there any negative influences you stayed away from?
BMLet me go back one day before my race. I stood in line for almost an hour and a half to get an autograph and to shake the famous Coach Percy Cerutty’s hand. There was one person in front of me now and I would get to shake Percy Cerutty’s hand. That person in front of me asked him how he thought the Americans would do. He was referring to Gerry Lindgren. And Percy said, ‘There’s not an American alive tough enough to win the 10,000.’ And I was next in line. He walked away and I said something like, ‘Excuse me, Coach. But I’ve got to go.’ And I walked away. I felt that if I stayed in line and shook his hand after hearing that, he would take some power away from me. I wouldn’t do one thing that would distract from the buildup. Those moments were probably the most powerful months in my life, just getting to know my inner self and to know me.
GCR:Since the Olympics were in Japan, you may have faced some nutritional challenges different from back in the U.S. What did you eat before the race to give you extra energy?
BMI had a candy bar with me that I ate a half hour, maybe forty-five minutes before the race. It was a chocolate bar. Earlier in the day I had Asian apples. They are a thick, juicy fruit that I would eat throughout the day. I was trying to figure out how to keep my blood sugar from going low. I often wonder if I didn’t have that Hershey chocolate before the race how I would have done.
GCR:The Olympic 10,000 meters had a strong field led by the heavy favorite, Ron Clarke, and Tunisia’s Mohammed Gammoudi. I looked at the tape again and Ron Clarke glanced back with a few laps to go which is often sign of concern or weakness. Were you feeling strong at this point?
BMAt about three laps to go is about where I had come out of a bad spell and I thought, ‘My God, I’m recovering.’ So, I was feeling very confident.
GCR:Entering the back stretch on the last lap you were shuffled outside by Clarke, and Mohammed Gammoudi took the lead. What were you thinking of your prospects to place in the top three or to medal at that point? What type of thoughts and emotions were going through your mind?
BMWith a lap to go I got on Clarke’s shoulder and I saw Temu, who won four years later in Mexico City there. He was running barefoot on the volcanic ash track, but it was muddy from rain. I moved on Clarke’s shoulder because I knew that a year earlier at the Commonwealth Games, I think it was Cook who moved on Clarke’s shoulder and boxed him in as they lapped a runner. Then Cook took off on Ron. I could see that happening with a lap to go and it was so empowering. I wondered if that could duplicate itself. I felt Clarke bump me a little so I bumped him back. I accelerated and tried to cut in, but he accelerated and I couldn’t cut in without bumping him. Imagine being pushed into the third lane and right about then I was getting the feeling of hypoglycemia and I knew there was nothing I could do. There’s a certain feeling that comes over you when you are going low blood sugar. It’s a clammy sweat and you get irritable. It’s not the free-flowing sweat of exercise. But I stumbled out and that almost woke me up a bit.
GCR:How did being bumped and the feeling of hypoglycemia coming on change your strategy?
BMI consciously decided to let Gammoudi and Clarke go and to get no more than ten yards on me. I wanted to save what little energy I had and I thought I might have a better chance to catch them than to try to hold them off. So many things were going through my mind. With 125 meters to go I thought, ‘Now, I’ve got to go now.’ I was lifting my knees and still feeling strong. The feeling of hypoglycemia was creeping in, but I was feeling strong. I was lifting my knees and pumping my arms. Before the race I had enough money to buy one ticket for my wife Patricia. Her airline ticket, her lodging and meals and one ticket for the 10,000 meters and somehow we got hold of an Opening Ceremonies ticket also. She was about 32 seats up as you come off of the final curve. I knew where she was and before the race I thought I had to be with the leaders there and that’s where I had to do my drive. So everything was predetermined and I was close to where I wanted to be except maybe eight or ten yards behind Clarke and Gammoudi.
GCR:So basically at that point it was crunch time, now or never?
BMI’m coming off the final turn thinking, ‘Now! Now! I’ve got to go now!’ I was pumping my arms and knees. Clarke and Gammoudi went by stragglers and they were in lanes two and three. One of the people they went by moves out to lane two, lane three, lane four – he’s right in front of me by about two yards and he goes into lane five. I go by and I thought I saw the German Eagle on his singlet and in the Native American culture that is a powerful sign. I remembered at that moment my dad saying, ‘If you do these things, son, you can have the wings of an eagle.’ It took me years to share that thought because I would cry, but at that moment I thought, ‘I may never be this close again. I’ve got to do it now. Wings of an eagle.’
GCR:It’s amazing how you describe this as when I watch tape of the race it almost looks like you are shot out of a gun with your kick in the final 50 meters or so. Was this period of just a few seconds playing out in slow motion for you?
BMIn my mind it was all ‘I’ve got to do it now. Wings of an eagle. I’m going to win but I may not get to the finish line.’ I lifted my knees and I just think a gift was put in me. I accelerated and caught them. Once I got past them I really started feeling the effects of low blood sugar. I was hanging on. If you look at the video my body was just breaking down as I crossed the finish line. I didn’t have five or ten more yards in me.
GCR:Your body may have been breaking down as you finished, but what were your thoughts as you crossed the finish line and realized you were an Olympic Champion?
BMThe first thing was when I put my hands on my face it was almost like a prayer because I knew I orchestrated it. I knew that I relied a lot on my dad who was not necessarily the best husband, but by the time I came around I think he was seeking redemption and he was trying to mentor me to save his own soul, but that is between he and the Creator. But I was given such valuable time with my father that I hope, no, I know that he saw this. It was such a spiritual thing and humbling because I knew that moment that I got help. And I decided to try to spend the rest of my life giving back because I was given a moment.
GCR:You share a special bond with Mohammed Gammoudi, of Tunisia, who earned the silver medal. Could you relate how this started?
BMGammoudi beat me in Belgium in 1963 in the second 10,000 meters I ever ran and I was third or fourth. He had this tremendous kick. He and I were the two darkest-skinned runners in the race and that may be the reason we bonded. He told me through an interpreter, ‘More speed.’ So when I saw him in Tokyo after the race he said, ‘Too much speed.’ He and I went for a jog the next day after the Olympic 10,000 meters and we couldn’t really talk to each other, but we bonded. That’s why I think that global unity through the dignity, character and beauty of global diversity is the future of humankind and the theme of the Olympics to me. When I won this is how I felt.
GCR:It was many years later when you spent some special time with Mohammed Gammoudi and his daughter, Nadia. Could you share with us some highlights of your time together?
BMIn 2012 I spent a day with Mohammed Gammoudi, and he said that on the last lap he saw Clarke and me close together and could tell what was going to happen. He saw me trying to box Clarke in and Clarke not letting me cut in. These are the words that his daughter, Nadia, translated to me because he speaks Arabic and French and she speaks those languages and English. He felt, ‘Clarke and Billy are both alert.’ He knew he must be ready. Nadia told me that he was also alert. Gammoudi told me in 2012 through Nadia, ‘Clarke pushed Billy. Poor Billy. My friend, Billy, is out of the race. I must strike now.’ I recovered and he could see a window rapidly opening and closing. He had to either slow down or go through he told me. He still had time so he turned and tried to go through. Accidently, no one was at fault we all kind of agreed, I was pushed again and Gammoudi, through his daughter, said he thought, ‘Poor Billy, but I need to concentrate on the World Record Holder.’
GCR:Was Gammoudi surprised at your recovery and home stretch acceleration and disappointed he didn’t hold you off for the Gold Medal?
BMNadia Gammoudi said, ‘My daddy wants me to tell you this Billy. With 300 meters to go when Clarke pushed you I felt my friend, Billy, is out of the race and I must go now. But my daddy saw you shut that window. With thirty meters to go my daddy was in lane two and Clarke was in lane three. My daddy looked in lane one as they passed stragglers and there was no Billy. He looks in lane three and Clarke is fading badly. With thirty meters to go the race was my daddy’s. My daddy told me you were an American Indian and you were like an arrow being shot out of a bow. You went by my daddy and won and he was so happy for you.’ I was a little confused by that and looked at Mohammed knowing he didn’t understand all English, but he would understand most of what I said. I said, ‘Why? I beat you.’ He shook his finger and Nadia said, ‘You didn’t beat my daddy. You won. In the manner in which you won that had to be your moment. It was your time.’ And I felt it was my gift. Clarke, a day or so after the race said, ‘Billy ran as if he had wings on his feet.’ I’ve always said I felt like I had wings on my feet. I felt it was a gift. Here it was 48 years later and Mohammed was saying, ‘It was your time. It was your moment.’ And then he looked up to the sky and as I interpreted it as if it was a gift.
GCR:It is amazing to hear what was said by Gammoudi and Clarke, and for them to realize that there was something big happening. You were creating it, but it was a little beyond you, and for them to realize it is outstanding.
BMLet me share one more thought with you that not many people know about, but you can confirm it with Olympic Coach Tracy Walters. Gerry Lindgren may not remember it because he had just finished competing and he was pretty down. After the Olympic 10,000 meters I walked into the room where I roomed with Gerry and he was feeling pretty sad – his ankle was swollen. Tracy was trying to console him. I walked into the room and Tracy jumped up. He didn’t know how to respond and he said, ‘Congratulations, Billy.’ He embraced me real strong and said, ‘Today you were the best in the world.’ Now, why I said what I said, I don’t know, but I think it was confirming that I was given a gift. I said, ‘No coach, today I was the second best in the world. The best in the world ran with a sprained ankle.’ And Tracy just cried. Thirty years went by before I saw Tracy again and he came up to me and said, ‘Billy, I’ll never forget what you said. You had just become the Olympic champion and Gerry was injured and really down. I was trying to pick his spirits up and when I congratulated you on being the very best in the world that day, I’ll never forget what you said.’
GCR:I’ll have to ask Gerry if he remembers this since we do communicate every now and then via social media.
BMI think the only reason I could have said something like I said is because in the Native American culture humility is a tremendous value. But I think it was me truly recognizing inside me that was a gift.
GCR:What were your feelings when you were on the podium being awarded your Gold Medal and hearing the National Anthem played not for someone else, but for you?
BMIt was later that day and it was very humbling. What I was feeling at that moment took a lot of thought to understand. It was twofold. I thought of this tremendous pride I had, but not just pride, it was honor of being a citizen of the United States and being a citizen of my tribal nation. As a Native American you have to put that in balance and in perspective. When they played the National Anthem, being a Marine, it felt so beautiful, so empowering. And yet, underneath that was this tremendously sacred feeling. I felt the presence of my dad and I was thinking. Thoughts were like energy as they occurred to me of my dad like when he told me I had broken wings, to do these things, to look beyond the hurt and the hate and self-pity, to go down deeper where the dreams lie and to pursue the dreams that heal broken souls. I thought all of this, but couldn’t articulate it at that moment. That moment was such a gift that I’ve spent the rest of my life thinking about it, ‘Why? Why?’ I can almost feel my dad because he told me when I was nine, ten, eleven years of age, to step inside of a circle where he would lecture me or correct me. That is where he told me inside the circle that I had broken wings and to look beyond the hurt, the hate, the jealousy and self-pity. All those emotions destroy you. Look way deeper where the dreams lie. Find your dreams and the pursuit of the dreams will heal you. He was trying to teach me to be a warrior, because a warrior takes responsibility. There are four most powerful virtues of a warrior and I try to do this on a daily basis. Number one takes bravery and fortitude, strength within you and you go on a journey to the center of your soul and that is where you find the virtue of wisdom. You use the virtue of wisdom to make the right choices for yourself. The right choices will empower you. Then you go to the virtue of generosity and empower others. When you do that, you are becoming an emerging warrior. With those thoughts, to educate you to what I’m trying to say, I thought my dad’s words, ‘you can step out of the circle now son.’ It’s just like he was telling me, ‘I healed a broken soul.’ All of this was going through me on the podium.
GCR:You mentioned the feeling you had on the podium as you were a Marine. Additionally, you were a husband and father to a young daughter. How hard was it to balance the responsibilities of military service and family life with the training necessary to compete with the best in the world? Or did the structure and discipline needed for military life and running go hand-in-hand?
BMLooking back there were so many things that could have been enough for me to say, ‘Who am I trying to fool?’ For example, I wanted to make the team in the 5,000 meters also like Emil Zatopek, who was one of my all-time heroes. It just blows me away today to think I could make the team in three events. I went to the National Championships in the 5,000 meters and took the lead with 500 meters to go and then the whole field went by me so I finished last. But that was one of those races where I went low blood sugar and had no control over that. So I knew I had to take control over what I ate. I qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters at the All-Service meet where I had bad shin splints and missed about three weeks of training. That could have been enough to discourage me.
GCR:Speaking of getting discouraged, how about back in 1963 when you weren’t initially named to the Marine Corps team?
BMI remember the Marine Corps choosing the team to go to and train at Camp Pendleton in September of 1963 and I wasn’t chosen. Spike Preania had the authority at Quantico to send me to Camp Pendleton, but said no. I went to see the Colonel and told him I felt I could make the Olympic team. He told me I was giving him the impression that I’d rather be an Olympian than a Marine Corps officer. I told him, ‘No sir. I have two goals in life. I accomplished becoming a Marine officer and have to make it to Camp Pendleton to make the Olympic team. He asked, ‘Do you really think you can make the team?’ My answer was, ‘Yes sir - if the Marine Corps gives me a chance.’ The next thing I know I had orders to go to camp Pendleton. I arrived at Camp Pendleton a 9:03 two-miler and 30:08 10,000 meter runner and by the first of February, 1964 I started eating more protein, realized if I ate closer to my race I wouldn’t run out of energy and I did some experimenting. I bombed some of the races, but there were those where I had good races like the Olympic Trials.
GCR:I’d like to go back to when you were a child. Did you get a lot of physical activity?
BMMy father didn’t own a car and my mother had died when I was only eight years old. My friends and I had one-speed bicycles so we would bike 15 miles out to a place called Ogalala Dam. We would take a couple jars of peanut butter and Kool-Aid. There were a lot of gardens on the Reservation and people didn’t mind if we went into their gardens as long as we just grabbed one item. We’d each grab a potato and eat it raw. We’d grab a tomato, spit on it to get it clean and wipe it off on our shirt. We brought a tire pump and an inner tube and we’d swim along while we pushed the inner tube. When we got tired we’d pop up in between and paddle. We drank water or Kool-Aid. To me it looked like it was a mile across the lake, but it was probably 600 yards. On the other side were cherry trees and plum trees and we’d play ‘Tarzan.’ Don Bragg, the great pole vaulter, had a pretty good Tarzan call, but I never told Don that my Tarzan call might have been able to challenge his. After playing ‘Tarzan’ we swam back across the lake and biked 15 miles back into town. It was just a day of play and I’d get almost a mile of swimming, play in the trees of swinging and climbing and biking of thirty miles. In some ways I was probably like a Kenyan athlete without the altitude. They say the average 18- year old Kenyan has at least five times the cardiovascular conditioning as the average American. So, I had tremendous cardiovascular development just by lifestyle, by way of life. When we went fishing we would walk six miles one way to the fishing hole and six miles back. I remember going hunting with a bow and six arrows. I could shoot the frogs and cut off the frog legs for food. It was daily play and I was developing some very quality cardiovascular conditioning.
GCR:Why and when did you start running regularly and how did it contribute to your all-around emotional, physical and spiritual well-being?
BMIt started because my dad boxed and wrestled and was teaching me how to box. I could actually defend myself, but with small bones and weak shoulder girdle I wasn’t a tough guy. But I could box. These were not my dad’s words, but he would tell me to run because running would help me to be a better rodeo cowboy, running would help me in basketball, running would help me in boxing. I knew that running did great things for athletes. I ran two track meets before I was a high school freshman. In one I got dead last at the School of Mines in Rapid City, South Dakota on their track. I think I was a seventh grader. I wore tennis shoes, Levis and a t-shirt. I came right from the reservation and ran against guys who had spikes, trunks and singlets in the 440 yard dash. I came in dead last, but I enjoyed the activity.
GCR:Wasn’t there another track meet where you raced to do well because of your sick sister?
BMPrior to that at another track meet I told my sister before the meet I was going to win her a ribbon. She was sick with tuberculosis. I rode to the meet with the Catholic priest and a teacher even though I didn’t go to the Catholic school. It was a county type track meet I did the softball throw, the long jump which was called the broad jump in those days, the fifty yard dash, 100 yard dash and I didn’t win anything. I was kind of sad. We were getting in the car and the teacher said, ‘Billy, did you get your ribbon.’ She knew my sister was sick. I said, ‘You know I didn’t win anything. And she said, ‘Oh, yes you did. I entered your drawing in the art contest. You got third place.’ I was out of the car, ran in and grabbed my white ribbon to bring back to my sister. My mom and dad were separated at the time, but my dad had a house right across the road from where we lived. They were clean homes, but fairly dilapidated. When I got there he was burning a mattress and clothing. I got out of the car and wanted to know what happened when another sister said, ‘Our sister, Estelle, just died.’ I said, ‘I got her a ribbon’ and my dad said he would give it to her which I assumed meant he would put it in the casket. I was a naïve kid assuming she was buried with the ribbon, but looking back, my dad under the stress of the moment grabbed the ribbon, crunched it up in his hand and stuck it in his pants pocket. Probably before the day was over he threw it in the trash can, but I like to think that she was buried with it.
GCR:With your spiritual beliefs, maybe she somehow had some knowledge before she passed or after she passed that you won that ribbon for her.
BMThat is what became the basis for the book I wrote with Nicolas Sparks. Nick wrote the book and my wife did the art work. I tried to contribute and eventually my contributions were small.
GCR:You mentioned that you didn’t do much running before high school, but you attended the Haskell Institute, a Native Americans boarding school in Lawrence, Kansas where you blossomed. What were some of the highlights of that experience?
BMI tried football. They didn’t have a cross country team and it wasn’t even a sport when I started high school. My freshman year I played football. It hurt, but I played. I was no good. I ran two races in track my freshman year. At the end of the season in a kind of all-comers meet Coach put me in the half mile. I started running and there were a few sophomores and mostly freshmen. But I wasn’t on the freshman team. I was running in last place and just enjoying it. My brother says, ‘Move up!’ So I moved up. ‘Move another one,’ I heard so I did. ‘You’re in fourth place – get into third.’ So I got into third place and we had about 180 yards to go. He shouted, ‘Try to win!’ I moved into the second lane, ran by the two of them and I won. It was not a fast time, but very impressive for what the coach thought I was capable of running. In one other race I went to the first Junior Olympics and I won the mile. Now, I had no knowledge of the Junior Olympics, but I knew I had qualified for another race. There was no way to go. I didn’t have money for expenses, school was out and I had to go back to the Reservation. So I don’t know if the next race was a regional meet or if it was a national Junior Olympics. I don’t know but I would have loved to go on the Junior Olympics at that point. There is no way I would have won because I hardly trained.
GCR:How much did your training and focus improve your next year in school?
BMI came back for my sophomore year to play football and the coach said we needed one more runner for a cross country team. I remember telling Coach Tony Kaufman, who later became like a second father to me, ‘Cross country is for sissies. I’m going to play football.’ So he had the football players rough me up a little and I went back to him saying, ‘Coach, do you still need me for cross country?’ He said something like, ‘You’re going to find out how tough it is.’ I didn’t think much of that comment until we started training. But I like the toughness of cross country training. Very quickly I realized what I fool I was thinking cross country was for sissies. In many ways it was tougher than any sport I did. It was tough because the toughness was internal. I really got to go to the center of my soul through cross country. I got to know the depths of my being. One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned and that’s who I am. And I learned that through cross country. The third cross country race I won as a sophomore and I was undefeated the rest of my high school career in cross country.
GCR:It’s interesting the way you speak of the depths of your soul as I heard something similar when I spoke with Jack Fultz, who won the 1976 Boston Marathon a real hot day. Jack spoke of how so many people focus on the outcomes of our races rather than the process of what we are going through when we are training. And Jack says the process is where you find out about yourself. Yes, it leads to good outcomes, but those looking from the outside don’t realize that whole process that we have to go through to get there.
BMAbsolutely. I think you’ll agree with this as I say it is the journey and not the destination that empowered me. The daily decisions that I made in life, not just the talent I possessed, are what choreographed my Olympic destiny.
GCR:Your next stop after high school was the University of Kansas where there were positives and negatives, especially with Coach Bill Easton. But, you had success at Kansas, winning the Big Eight individual cross country title and earning the All-American distinction three times. And your Kansas team won the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in both 1959 and 1960. How much did you enjoy the team success versus your own individual success?
BMI’ve always been a team-oriented person. Probably my worst nightmare as a cross country runner at Kansas was in my senior year when I won the Big Eight Conference title but it was the first time the team lost in 17 years. At the Conference championship I was the team captain. The team was vital to me and I had some great teammates. It was my last team race as I was the only one who went to nationals that year. Coach wanted me to encourage the fourth and fifth runners, so I ran back with them for a while. All of a sudden I saw there was a big gap between me and first place. I had to try to win and I took off. I didn’t know if I had enough time to even finish in the top three. With about 100 meters to go I’m in fourth and I’m thinking, ‘I’m gonna do it.’ I went by the third guy, then my teammate, Bill Dodson and an Oklahoma State guy and won, so I did my part. I encouraged the fourth and fifth runners and I still won the race. I remember Coach not coming up to me right away. He totaled the finishes and realized we had lost. So he came up to me and said, ‘You are the worst captain I ever had.’ Today as a 76 year old man I can see some humor there. But, oh my God, it just devastated me. From my standpoint I choreographed it as well as any team captain could to try and encourage the team.
GCR:Didn’t you do very well and finish in the top ten at the NCAA Cross Country meet the next three years?
BMMy sophomore year of cross country I believe I finished fifth and made first team All-America. Four foreigners were ahead of me. I was the first American. My junior year there was one American ahead of me and I was sixth. My senior year I was fifth again. During my sophomore year I trained so hard and I got ready for the nationals in track. Al Lawrence, who was an Olympic Silver Medalist for Australia was running for Houston, there were a couple others and I was in a pack. I wasn’t going low blood sugar. I’m feeling great. I didn’t know then about low blood sugar then.
GCR:Even though you didn’t know about hypoglycemia or that you were affected by it, were there customary nutritional techniques back then that helped you even though you didn’t have this knowledge?
BMIn high school my coach would give me honey about a half hour before a race – maybe two ounces or so. I took my honey jar to my meets in college and my coach took it away. He said, ‘This is college. We do things the collegiate way.’ My sophomore year I definitely had a Hershey bar and with three hundred meters to go at Nationals I’m feeling great. I’m with the pack. Then someone stepped on my heel, scraped my Achilles, pulled my shoe off and I fell down. I got up and took about three steps. Sprained ankle – I couldn’t run. I think I might have finished the race, but I can’t recall. My ankle was just swollen up. There were races where I wasn’t running well because of low blood sugar, but the coach and the media thought I had low self-esteem as an orphan, minority and coming from poverty. They said I had to learn how to deal with those issues. And I knew that I didn’t have low self-esteem, but it eventually was wearing on me that maybe I don’t understand that I do. I started having this incredible struggle emotionally. Probably the blessing that turned things around for me in track was my senior year when I met Pat. This sounds terrible, but she was the first person outside of the Native American world that I trusted. Doesn’t that sound terrible?
GCR:In some ways it does, but with what you had to go through I can see how you would have had your guard up.
BMI was very guarded. I remember walking into this one party and they said, ‘Here comes the Indian- do us the bongo drums.’ Pat is a drummer and said, ‘I’ll play these.’ So she got the drums and started pounding out these great tunes on the drums. I turned around and walked out. I just couldn’t handle it. My sophomore year one of my good friends and teammates was Bob Covey, who I just spoke to about an hour ago and retired as the Athletic Director and Track and Field Coach at Bakersfield College. Bob had similar experiences with Coach Easton. Bob was a cerebral person and had an academic/athletic scholarship. He injured himself his freshman year. He had tremendous athletic ability and was a potential Olympian. He ran, scored points for us and almost won a Big Eight Conference championship though he was no longer the potential Olympic athlete or national champion. Easton constantly tried to get him to give up his athletic scholarship. It was this incredible negative for Bob toward the university he loved. There were these issues. Coach taught respect, he taught humility, he taught you how to be a better citizen, but he lost his way when he tried to mentor a multi-cultural athlete. He was not a racist person. He was a quality human being. But in those days quality human beings were not being taught or prepared for multiculturalism.
GCR:When people speak of prejudice and discrimination the focus is mostly on African-Americans and I think we tend to forget about the part about Native Americans. How encouraged are you decades later by changing attitudes, and more inclusiveness in society and how much further is there to go?
BMI think we have made tremendous improvements in America. But I think we are facing another level of adjustment that we’re not ready for in America and that’s the global adjustment. For us to remain a leader among the industrialized countries of the world and for us to stay ahead or even abreast of the developing nations in the next twenty years – Brazil, China, India – we need to really understand a global culture and we don’t. A perfect example would be from books like ‘The Price of Civilization.’ It is powerful. I’ve been blessed to meet all of the Presidents, though most when they weren’t President. I met Ronald Reagan when he was Governor, Gerald Ford as a Congressman, John Kennedy when he was a Senator. The one I met when he was president was the second Bush. Jeffrey Sachs in ‘The Price of Civilization’ said in the 1970s that when Ronald Reagan said, ‘Government isn’t the solution, it is the problem’ that was the beginning of the need in our country for government and the marketplace to work closely together. It was beginning to rapidly surface. Now I say that never in our country has the need for government and the marketplace to work closely together been greater. And that’s to choreograph our infrastructure and to choreograph our journey into the balance of the 21st and the 22nd century. From a global standpoint we have maybe ninety years of water left. Our population growth is putting the natural resources and the number of people out of balance. Our Congress is doing the totally opposite by not legislating and not working with an incumbent President. I feel very strongly we need to be rebuilding our infrastructure – the gridlines, the gas pipelines, the bridges, the roads and that comes from taxpayer dollars. We need to do so to stay ahead of industrialized countries and to keep ahead of developing countries. We have limited knowledge in our country on global issues.
GCR:Getting back to racing, a big race occurred in the summer of 1965 at the AAU Championships where Gerry Lindgren and you both ran a World Record six-mile with you out-leaning him at the tape. How appropriate was it for the two of you to race so strongly and finish neck-and-neck?
BMI think it was very appropriate and I’m glad it happened that was because it could show the track fan of what could have been in Tokyo. I think Gerry and I could have finished one-two. However, in Tokyo it got pretty rough on the last lap and Gerry is pretty fragile. So, he may not have been able to handle the roughness with his fragile body. He may have handled it though. I believe I would have won as it was destined to happen. If Gerry hadn’t twisted his ankle, he would have been there. So the six-mile race was ideal to show the world what could have been. There are no guarantees, so we have to take advantage of opportunities when we have them. I thought I was going to get five or six World Records that summer as I ran through all of my races and then I ended up getting sick. I was pointing for one race against the Soviet Union because I wanted to go under 27:40. I trained through the National Championship meet. I thought I could run in the 27s but I got major blood blisters. After the race I was lying on a training table with them cutting the skin off. I almost decided to back off in the race because of the bad blood blisters, but I knew that I needed to race well to go to Europe. Still I was thinking about the bad blood blisters I could feel forming. I had to put up with it, though when they broke they were better. I also remember telling my wife I just didn’t feel good. I had trained too hard that week. I went up to her before the race and she asked, ‘Are you ready?’ I told her, ‘I’m ready for the World Record, but I don’t feel that strong.’
GCR:What was the confusion with the AAU officials regarding not just the attempt at a six-mile World Record, but also at 10,000 meters that day?
BMI had contacted the AAU a month before asking if I could go for two world Records in the six-mile and 10,000 meters and they verbally said, ‘yes.’ Gerry was having his problems with the AAU and NCAA. I called Gerry’s coach at Washington State and I also talked to Gerry. I asked Gerry if he was ready for a World Record and said that we could run together until maybe one or two laps to go so we could keep on pace with the World Record. Someone else I talked to at Washington State said that Gerry might lose his NCAA eligibility if he raced at AAUs. I said it wasn’t fair to Gerry, but if he loses his eligibility I will never run another race. It wasn’t fair because I already had my degree. I used running as a catalyst to get my college degree. I wasn’t fair to Gerry as if he lost his eligibility for running at the National Championships I didn’t want to run another race. At any rate, Gerry showed up. He was aware of the planned pace because he asked if I was ready for it. I asked if he was ready for a World Record and said that we could run together and alternate leading laps. And Gerry said, ‘Are you trying to psyche me out?’ I was about old enough to be his coach as I was 26 years old and I said, ‘No, let’s just run together.’ We agreed to do this until there were two laps to go.
GCR:When did you find out that there would be no 10,000 meters finish line and how did this affect you?
BMWhat really broke me was when I went to Colonel Don Hall about the attempt at two World Records. I asked if there would be a finish line at the six-mile and 10,000 meters. He told me the track wasn’t measured for 10,000 meters which just blew my mind – I just lost it. I asked him to move up the mile race between Ryun and Snell and run Gerry and I last so they could measure the track. But that was not an option. I told my wife I was upset and was going to wait until I went to Europe to go for a world Record and that I’d better tell Gerry. She said, ‘You’ve trained for it, you’re ready for it, you are tired, but you may never get another chance. Go for it now.’ I said, ‘What do you know about distance running?’ And I walked away, but remembered her thoughts… ‘You’re ready for it; you may not get another chance, go for it now.’ So I decided to go for it now.
GCR:Did the race play out as anticipated with Gerry and you alternating the lead?
BMSomeone else led the first lap and then Gerry or I took the lead. But after a couple laps, he called it off, not verbally, but he ducked in behind me. Later he tells his version that I wouldn’t let him pass me. So I ended up setting the pace and was getting these blood blisters. After a couple miles I thought, ‘The hell with it! If he tries to come by me I’m not going to let him come by me.’ This is vague, but during the race Gerry asked me something like, ‘What was that noise.’ My reply was maybe, ‘A car backfiring.’ Later on it surfaced that Gerry had actually said that he had been threatened.
GCR:How much of a battle was it on the last lap when you both wouldn’t yield an inch in striving for the victory?
BMAt the gun lap we were maybe at World Record pace, but not under it yet. He took the lead and I took it. He took it again and I took it back. This was a battle. Then I started feeling the low blood sugar effects. I had the lead and I thought I would make him run a little further. Gerry came back on me going into the final curve. I slowed and he got even with me shoulder. In the second lane he ran probably a yard further for sure. I purposely and legally had him run a yard further. We got into the straightaway and I go into this kick and it wasn’t there. The low blood sugar was as I wasn’t feeling bad. Then it was like I had to just go. I night have been running too tight, but I muscled my way through. I leaned and I felt the tape, so I knew I won. At least I felt the tape and thought I was six or seven inches ahead of him. To get confirmation I said, ‘Gerry, it was too close. I don’t know who won? Do You?’ I said this because I needed his affirmation. He said, ‘You won Billy’ and that was all I needed to hear. My feet started hurting from the blisters. It took a fairly decent last lap to get the World Record. We went to the two little massage tables outdoors at Balboa Stadium. As they were cutting the skin off of my feet I realized they were looking for something. The automatic timer had me winning by five hundredths of a second, but they couldn’t find the new rule book. So they decided to use the handheld timing rules which for six miles and above say to move the faster time up to the slower time. So we both were given officially 27:11.6 and we tied for the World Record. But since the automatic timer had me at 27:11.55 at the photo finish I was given the win while we became co-holders of the World Record.
GCR:Maybe that was better that the two of you were co-holders of the World Record. With what you went through together, it seemed destined to be.
BMIf I had to share the World Record with any from the crop of distance runners in the world, I probably would have picked Gerry.
GCR:It’s interesting also because when I talked with Gerry we spoke about his string of 36 races in a row of all sorts of distances from two miles to 10,000 meters where at the halfway point in each race he was ahead of the World Record. He would just go out and hammer and dare everybody by letting them know if they wanted to beat him they had to run at World Record pace. It is something the way he did that.
BMYou’ll have to see if he remembers this because, as you know, Gerry can say some crazy things. The last time he and I had dinner he told me he was coming out of retirement, he was doing some training and he was going for a three minute mile. I said, ‘Gerry, I’m more realistic – I’m going for a 3:30!’
GCR:He did have a mindset even as a kid that if you believed you could do it, you could. If you didn’t believe, then you had no chance.
BMGerry paid me such a compliment one year. The compliment he gave me that one day about 15 years after his career was over and twenty years after mine was over was that he said, ‘Billy, you gave me more trouble than any run I ran against. I took that as a major compliment because I know that he and Pre had some great battles.
GCR:Two of the most influential coaches when you were running were Arthur Lydiard, who stressed more mileage and strength, and Mihaly Igloi, who emphasized speed and many repetitions on the track. What did you take from both camps and other coaching philosophies that made you stronger as a runner?
BMI looked at Lydiard’s methods, those of Igloi and also of Ron Clarke a little. I worked my training cycle over ten days. So, I didn’t have a seven day training week. I had a ten day cycle which gave me three cycles per month which became consistent month after month after month. The intensity of the workouts wasn’t as much in the off-season and I did a little more speedwork as I got ready for the bigger meets. I took from Lydiard the twenty-mile run. My long run ranged from twenty to thirty miles. I couldn’t run 20 or 30 milers in a seven day week. I remember going on 30 mile runs when going low blood sugar could have caused a metabolic heart problem and I could have died. But I was in California and there are orange trees. So I’d run by a farmer and say, ‘Can I have an orange,’ and he’d throw me one. I’d be shaky from the low blood sugar. I didn’t realize how dangerous it was, but I knew the oranges gave me energy by getting my blood sugar back up. Alex Breckenridge, who was on the Olympic team in the marathon, would go on some long runs with me which really, really helped me. When Gammoudi had told me I needed more speed when we raced in Belgium, I started really doing a lot of speed work. In the ten day cycle I had two sheer speed workouts. I couldn’t do that in a seven day cycle. From what I knew about Ron Clarke, I thought that he did a lot of hard one hour runs. So I would do one hour runs based on how my body felt. On some of them I think I could have broken the World Record for ten miles or one hour. My course was at Camp Pendleton and I called it a one hour run, though it was a ten mile course. It was hilly. Some of the ten milers when I was tired it took seventy minutes and sometimes in fifty minutes.
GCR:Four years later you attempted to qualify for the 1968 Olympics and, when I spoke with George Young, he talked about how the two of you trained together and how during the Olympic Trials marathon on a five lap course your back was sore and you told George to go ahead. How disappointing was it to not have another chance to run in the Olympics?
BMThe major disappointment was that I was so taken by the idealism of the Olympics, the unity through diversity, the future of humankind, that I wanted to go to Mexico City. I didn’t think about winning a medal though I would have loved to if I was ready. I just wanted to go to the Olympics and experience the Olympic movement. That was my first mistake. Secondly, because of that I never got ready. Seven months before the Games I was overweight, out of shape, selling insurance and working late at night. I was starting to train and some of my workouts started at eleven o’clock. Other started at midnight. I’d do a one hour run under the street lights in San Diego. I’d do 330 yard wind sprints on the grass fields at San Diego State. Sometimes it was 1:00 a.m. as I’d finished a late night insurance appointment. That’s the real regret I have. I should have just said, ‘If I’m not going to try to become a defending Gold medalist, then don’t go to the Games.’ But even saying that, now I disagree with it. Everything now is about win, win, win. The Games in a way saved my life and brought a much broader spectrum about sport than to profit at all costs. So, I just wanted to go to the Olympic Games again to experience the camaraderie of the Games, meet people from other countries and build friendships. In the Olympic Games and World Championships you can’t do that.
GCR:Were you able to ramp up your training to a fairly rigorous level as you trained for the 1968 Olympics?
BMIn the seven months leading up to the 1968 Trials I averaged a little less than forty miles a week. I was doing a lot of speed work. At the U.S. National Championships I probably should have just gone for the 5,000 meters. I told George to go in the marathon trials because my back was tying up. A chiropractor in San Diego had adjusted me and kind of injured my back with the adjustment as I was going to Flagstaff to train. This was a few days before the Nationals. I couldn’t breathe deep and then doing speed work I injured a groin muscle that has bothered me forever. As I sit here now that same muscle area has two hernias and I’ve got to go in for surgery. I was debating whether I should try to make the team since I was defending Gold Medalist or just retire. I had an injured back, but thought I could still make the Olympic team. In fact I told some of the officials I’m not ready to win a medal, but I can make the team. I was too naïve. I didn’t realize that was not what they wanted to hear. I told them I was injured, that I wanted to go in the 5,000, because I wasn’t ready to defend the 10,000. I just wanted that one more experience.
GCR:How did the big conflict about your entry in the Olympic Trials and angst amongst other competitors come about?
BMThe officials told me to run the 10k because it was the first race and I could start healing sooner. They told me if my injury started bothering me to not make it worse. So I ran the 10k, it started bothering me somewhere around two miles or so and I walked off the track. I went to the medical tent and there was some inflammation in the groin. That gave me a medical exception, but that started this whole conflict with some of the athletes. I had to heal up and prove myself and I was told I had to go in the 10k at the Olympic Trials since that’s what I started at the Nationals. I told them I didn’t want to run the 10k and that I wanted to run the 5,000 meters. George and I stopped in Bishop and ran several miles up Mount Whitney and then down. Going down it started hurting my groin. We ran a race before the Trials and I had kind of healed as I ran a 28:23 or so for 10,000 at an August meet. I was trying to run 28:10 but I couldn’t as I was not in the shape I thought I was. I was planning to run 5,000, but they told me I had to run the 10,000 meters to get to the 5,000 meters because I filled a form out improperly in June.
GCR:What type of effect did this have on your training?
BMI started panicking and rushing workouts. I remember that back in Tokyo the week before my Olympic race I had run five 440s all 54 seconds with less than a quarter jog in between. But on the fourth one I felt a little twinge, but I wanted to get one more in. I jogged a lap and walked a lap, did the fifth one and injured myself again. I ran the 10k, went low blood sugar. I had taken a painkiller beforehand but it wore off with about four laps to go. Someone may have said, ‘Mills is limping.’ There were four of us left and I had to make up my mind to try to finish third or let them go. I had to run the 10k to get to the 5k so I let them go. I finished fourth, but it was hard on me. My groin was hurting. My brother was with me and we went down to South Lake Tahoe for dinner. I remember going low blood sugar, going into the bathroom and telling him, ‘If I don’t come out, come looking for me.’ You could die from low blood sugar and I was so naïve. I got a Coca-Cola. I sat down in the bathroom against the wall with my head down and eventually I recovered. I came out and was shaking. The race wasn’t that hard on me, but I didn’t know as much as I do today about hypoglycemia. My blood sugar is about 55 when I start shaking. The lowest it’s been this year is 52. I didn’t know the significance of it. I was wondering if I was sick and maybe not in as good of shape as I thought.
GCR:Why didn’t you take advantage of the testing conducted by Jack Daniels and could this have been helpful?
BMGeorge Young, Conrad Nightingale, Jim Ryun and others were all seeing Jack Daniels who was working on his PhD in Exercise Physiology and were having their blood tested every morning. I refused because I knew I wasn’t in shape and I didn’t need a blood test telling me I’m not in shape on my mind. If I had been tested by him I might have found out how low my blood sugar was and he might have been able to direct me on how to deal with it. I don’t know how advanced he was then, but there are so many decisions that could have potentially helped me.
GCR:Describe what happened at the Trials before the 5,000 meters?
BMAt any rate I was back at the Trials and I remember being called into a circle of coaches. Stan Wright said something like, ‘If Billy’s into the 5,000 there are going to be problems.’ So I asked him what the problems would be. He said, ‘I respect you and your wife, but I just don’t want to be involved in this.’ I didn’t even know what it meant. Ron Whitney had started a petition supporting my entry in the 5,000 meter heats. They weren’t going to allow me to run because I had filled out that form improperly in June and couldn’t run the 5,000 meter heats. I’ve got a copy of the petition that was given to me about 15 years ago. About ninety athletes had signed the petition. One friend at the time tried to increase support for me by having people send in telegrams that I had the fastest qualifying time and should be allowed into the 5,000 meter final. Over 400 telegrams came in to support me.
GCR:Did the Olympic Committee take this into consideration?
BMThe Olympic Committee said they received all of those telegrams, predominantly from African-Americans, opposing me. But I knew the opposite. The list came in and there was only one African-American who opposed me. The heavyweights – Lee Evans, John Carlos and Tommie Smith supported me. Three white athletes opposed me and they were all 5,000 meter runners. Gerry Lindgren supported me. Gerry simply said from what I was told, ‘Let Billy run. He’s not asking to be put into the finals, just to qualify for the finals. Let him run.’ I think I had the fastest qualifying time going into the Trials heats.
GCR:What finally ended up happening regarding your entry into the 5,000 meter heats?
BMThe officials told me they would test my fitness. There were two heats and they said I could run later, but it wouldn’t be sanctioned as an official third heat. None of the officials timed me. Ron Clarke was there and wanted to do a practice run and run with me. I tried to not let Ron know I was injured. I told him I wasn’t going to race him. We were at altitude and I wanted to run 14:20, which was about 20 seconds faster than the fastest winning time in the two heats. Ron ran 20 seconds faster than the winner. I ran 19.6 seconds faster than the winner. I had taken a painkiller to help and I didn’t try to beat Ron so I wouldn’t injure the groin further. An AAU official came up to me and told me that he was a Catholic and they didn’t know how to deal with the issues so they were using me. They should have let me compete and make the team or be eliminated, but that if I told this to anybody he would deny it. Those are issues where I wish I had made the decision to not even try to make the team. I was devastated for even starting the whole process.
GCR:The Civil Rights movement really gained momentum in the United States in 1968. What did you think when you saw the message advocated by Tommie Smith and John Carlos with their black glove raised on the podium after winning the Gold and Bronze medals in the Olympic 200 meters in Mexico City?
BMAt the 1968 Olympics when I saw Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the victory stand many of my colleagues were angry and I simply said to myself the Olympics mean global unity through the dignity and belief in global diversity and the future of humankind. I saw Carlos and Smith being persecuted afterward. I think Tommie Smith ended up living in a garage because no one would rent him a room. They were addressing civil rights issues and were saying they were American citizens and human beings and to respect their diversity and give them equality. Ultimately I tried to understand that and it definitely made me a better person. I have tremendous respect for them and Lee Evans.
GCR:We’ve talked considerably about your Olympic Gold Medal performance, but it is amazing that in the 118 years since the Modern Olympics began in 1896 you are the only U.S. runner to win Olympic Gold at 10,000 meters. Galen Rupp is an American who has the talent and racing savvy join you – are you hopeful that we may see another American win Gold in your event?
BMGalen’s got a chance and so does Kim Conley for women as she is phenomenal and is a real sleeper. I would not be surprised if Kim Conley won the Gold medal in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. Galen, likewise, has an excellent chance.
GCR:You have inspired so many runners, athletes and others, but who are the athletes that inspired you?
BMGerry Lindgren inspired me. George Young, who I look upon as one of the greatest distance runners of all time from the United States inspired me. Also, there were people from other countries whom I read about. I don’t know if George Young knows that, but I think he’s heard me say that I hold him up as one of the all-time top distance runners in the U.S. he’s a four-time Olympian and has a Bronze medal. I only beat George a couple times. The first time I beat George I came home and I told my wife, ‘I beat George Young! I beat George!’ And I was all excited. She was not a track person and didn’t follow the sport as she was into her art world, so her words were, ‘George, who’s George?’
GCR:Is there one athlete who stands out as your running hero?
BMMy running hero was actually a decathlete named Buster Charles. He was an Oneida Indian and in 1929 Buster Charles won the U.S. National decathlon championships. He won the first six events although he injured his back with a broken bone in his back. At Haskell Indian School they gave out the Buster Charles Award to the best student-athlete. My brother got that award, I believe. I wanted to win the Buster Charles Award because my dad told me about Buster Charles. He won the 1932 Olympic decathlon after coming back from that injury, re-injured himself in the Coliseum and finished fourth when Buster Crabb won. My dad went to Flandrew Indian School, and so had Buster before he went to Haskell. I thought I was going to get the Buster Charles Award, but whoever was the benefactor for the award either didn’t have the money that year or moved. So they gave out no Buster Charles Award. I was devastated.
GCR:Did you ever have the opportunity to meet Buster Charles?
BMAfter the Olympic Games, one of the first functions where I was invited was in Phoenix and on the marquee they listed the Gold Medalists. There was also an engineering conference and a man came out of their lounge and asked, ‘Which one of you young athletes is Billy Mills?’ I told him I was. He told me there was a man having dinner in the lounge who was hoping to meet me and that he was also an Olympian. My mind started racing… ‘Is he an engineer?’ I asked. ‘Yes.’ ‘Is he a decathlete?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Is he Buster Charles?’ ‘My God, yes.’ I walked in; Buster Charles stood up and said, ‘My, what a thrill you gave us. I saw your name here and I was hoping I could meet you.’ He asked me to sit down and I was just staring at him. He said,’ Are you okay?’ I said, ‘Buster, you have no idea. You’re like a god to me. You’ve been my hero.’ He laughed and it went to his heart. ‘I only finished fourth and you won the whole thing. You’re the Gold medalist.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but you’re still my hero. We became friends. I was able to organize the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame and enshrine Buster along with others.
GCR:Please tell us the amazing story that few people know of how the full story of Buster Charles and you came full circle.
BMAbout ten years ago I was speaking at Chamberlain, South Dakota at a Catholic school and they were presenting two Buster Charles Awards. They asked me to present to the male, so I thought the other would go to a female. They called up the young athlete and I presented the Buster Charles Award to him. Then he in turn was to present the next one, and he presented it to me. I started laughing and told them they had no idea how long I had waited for that award. They told me they had heard my story and wanted to give it to me. So, when I got home I was going to give buster a call and there was a message from his daughter that Buster had passed away at 98 years old. He had had a stroke and was recovering, but his wife, who was 94 years old, had a heart attack and died from the stress of Buster’s stroke. Since he was recovering after about a week had gone by they were able to tell him that his wife was gone. He said, ‘there’s still time to catch up with her. I’ve got to join her.’ He quit eating and a week went by, he died, and he started that sacred journey catching up with his wife. It was such a beautiful story. The U.S. Olympic committee sent an Olympic flag and wanted me to be there. I took my Buster Charles plaque to his funeral. I got to say goodbye to my hero and let him know as he was on his spiritual journey that I’d gotten my Buster Charles Award. Not many people know of this story.
GCR:In the five decades since your Olympic success no other Native Americans have come close to your success despite your efforts. It’s sort of like Tiger Woods doing so well in golf and everyone thought it would start a wave of black golfers. Why do you think this is so and are you hopeful that we may see more Native American runners at the highest level?
BMWhat I think has happened is it sort of comes in under the radar. I’m just one who inspires Native Americans. Galen Rupp inspires Native Americans. Steve Prefontaine inspired Native Americans. I inspired Native Americans. There was a Sports Illustrated article around 1990 about Indian basketball and it was devastating as there were Native Americans in high school with tremendous abilities, and it chronicles a particular talented athlete who became alcoholic, had children and dropped out of school. We try to counteract that with the ‘Wings of America’ program started by Will Channing in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Young Native American athletes joined the distance running program. Young athletes in the program probably have a 95% graduation rate from college. They utilize sport as a catalyst and have done tremendously well getting their degree, contributing to society, helping to turn negative issues around so there is a tremendous success pattern among Native American distance runners. Some have gone to U.S. Junior World Championships in cross country. When you look at Olympic gold medals and World Championships, they aren’t there, but they are in a far better place in giving back to their communities.
GCR:Please describe some of the difficulties faced by Native Americans in modern day America.
BMWhen you look at the Native American world today we live in this beautiful country under a form of apartheid with taxation without representation. We have a Senate committee on Indian affairs that makes decisions on the sovereignty of Indian land. There are multitudes of issues stacked up against the Native American on the Reservation feeling like he or she belongs as a citizen of the United States. Then there are Native Americans in urban areas and a tremendous epidemic of suicide, type 2 diabetes, health issues. Gangs have infiltrated from city areas into the reservations and are making tremendous inroads in presenting challenges to young people.
GCR:What can be done to improve the situation for Native Americans?
BMWhat needs to happen is the Native American elders, tribal leaders, elected officials, the educators on the reservation, the clergy, the traditional spiritualists, even gang members - people of leadership need to sit down and decide what type of life we want to choreograph for our children and our children’s children because right now we’re floating somewhat in a lost manner. There are young people on reservations that test brilliantly and yet some of them live in extreme at-risk situations. There are those who have found themselves, their inner strength, their passion, they’re going to college, getting their degrees and empowering themselves but yet as a whole the United States of America is ranked very low in education worldwide. The Native American education is ranked at the bottom in the United States, so there are major educational issues. There are major issues addressing the health of families.
GCR:Tribal Nations fared badly after Europeans occupied America. What type of progress is being made In Washington regarding the First Americans?
BMTreaty rights that tribal nations have with the United States are summarized as the U.S. has taken land rights and resources and must forever provide a school house and teacher for every thirty people to learn their way. That’s not a free education. From just my tribe over $50 billion dollars’ worth of gold was taken from us after the treaty signed. Timber, uranium, gas, oil – all was taken. The raping of our lands was done and the government doesn’t live up to the treaties just in infrastructure. On the reservations we are billions of dollars behind in just funding according to the treaty rights. Most people have no knowledge that we are providing the minimum as a country to help First Nations’ people. On a per capita basis there are a high percentage of Native American honorees. There is a tremendous lack of communication between tribal governments and the U.S. government. President Barack Obama has been the greatest President as far as dealing with our treaty rights. By saying simple things he meets with all the governors of the fifty states, the mayors of major cities. He is the first President to meet with one official from all of the federally recognized tribes and he does so once a year. He gives them the same access to the White House as the governors and large city mayors have. In the past they had meetings on gas and oil and no tribal leaders were invited even though there was gas and oil on tribal lands. There is this whole confusion about not feeling that we belong. That needs to be addressed. What’s frightening is that throughout the world many are finding out how the United States has treated its indigenous people. It’s a tough issue to deal with, but most Native Americans take great pride in being citizens of the United States of America and they take extra protection of our country because we are also citizens of our tribal nation and we were the first Americans.
GCR:You mentioned earlier about some of your health challenges with your groin muscle and upcoming surgery. How your overall health and what is your health and fitness regimen?
BMI play golf and do a lot of walking. I do some lifting of weights. Downhill skiing kind of ruined my knees. Fifty percent of both medial meniscuses are gone and 25 % of the lateral. I have had some soft tissue damage done to my shoulder. But my hips are very healthy. I got the recent hernia the same place I got it in Tokyo trying to run Clarke and Gammoudi down. The two hernias are from lifting weights three months ago. I didn’t realize which exercise was causing the hernia, so I eliminated one and kept doing the one that was causing it. It won’t be until January until I have the surgery. My bad cholesterol is about 98. My good cholesterol is above where it should be. My triglycerides are very good – around 69. So I am healthy, however I’m a type 2 diabetic and am hypoglycemic. My A1C which measures my diabetes is 5.3. Most doctors would say I’m not diabetic, but I know what to eat that makes me diabetic. I recently went back on more of a high fatty acid diet because the scientific study of high carbs and low fat diets is causing a third type of diabetes. I am about 98% fructose free, 95% gluten free. My blood pressure the other day was 122 over 74.
GCR:What are some of your goals for the future in terms of personal development, continuing to help others and do you see yourself slowing down?
BMI’ll always be involved with my Running Strong for American Indian Youth program. A selfish goal is to take my four daughters to Tokyo in 2020 for a closure to a beautiful, beautiful journey. I want to provide the rooms, meals and tickets to the Olympic Games. If the husbands want to go they just have to buy their air fare.
GCR:Has the Tokyo organizing committee talked to you about coming back?
BMWe were invited for three days this October for the 1964 Olympic reunion party in Tokyo. But by the time the Japanese Olympic Committee got the invitations out one of the Native American communities had already reached out and Patricia had chosen them to honor me. Also, I’m going to South Dakota to Pine Ridge where they are having a fiftieth anniversary celebration of my winning the Gold Medal. By the time the J.O.C. contacted us, we were already booked.
GCR:You speak to many, many groups. How do you sum up in a minute or so the major lessons you have learned during your life from your youth on the reservation, losing your parents at an early age, the discipline of running and the military, balancing two cultures, the good fortune having Pat at your side for over fifty years, using your success to inspire others and sharing your knowledge and experience with others?
BMI think it would be three things and wrapping a fourth around it. The first would be - it’s the journey, not the destination that we choreograph for ourselves. It’s the journey, not the destination that empowers us. The daily decisions that we make in life, not just the talent we possess, choreographs our destiny. Secondly, the journey and the daily decisions we make have to have a basic concept of global unity through the dignity, character and beauty of global diversity. The future of humankind. Third, there definitely has to be a core of unity through diversity. And wrapping it up, in my Native American culture, the most powerful prayer is ‘we are all related.’ That summarizes for me that we have to respect our fellow man.
 Inside Stuff
Hobbies/InterestsMy wife, Patricia, stood by me as I pursued my Olympic career and she let go of her art career. What I really enjoy now is supporting her art career as she pursues it. She teaches art on the Crystal Cruise line. I’ve gone to 108 different countries and she’s gone to 91. I enjoy being her assistant, but I told her I would not wear an apron. We go to a lot of art museums which I enjoy and I like going down to her studio to see her latest projects. Following art has become a major passion for me. She has a painting of me called, ‘Wings of an Eagle,’ based on the story I shared of my dad saying, ‘If you do these things, you will have wings of an eagle.’ It’s in the Crazy Horse Monument Museum, one of the ten wonders of the world, in South Dakota. It is in their private collection. Another of her paintings, ‘Torch of Memory,’ is one where she captures the moment right after I crossed the finish line and that moment was me having my hands over my face. It is the essence of me taking the drum, taking the songs, taking the culture along with me, so that I could take the tradition, the culture and the spirituality and extract the virtues and the values that empower them and put those virtues and values into current educational pursuits. In my case, that was the current educational and Olympic pursuit. So, right after I finish, my hands are over my face and she calls that the ‘Torch of Memory.’
NicknamesThere is one I don’t particularly like, but when I was a kid my hair would get a little light in the summer and a little reddish and as a young kid one or two of my cousins would call me ‘Red’ or ‘Bull Red. I had a temper and the bull came from an angry bull
Favorite moviesI can watch ‘Casablanca’ every night of the week. There are others I enjoy, especially movies that deal with some form of spirituality such as ‘The Robe’ or ‘The Ten Commandments.’ I like watching those classic old movies
Favorite musicI don’t really know music as I have a lot of tone deafness. But I love to listen to Classical music. I love to listen to violin. I love to listen to piano. A lot of times I go back and listen to the oldies, but goodies
Favorite books‘The Price of Civilization.’ There are books that I think everyone needs to read and they are ‘The Beginning of Others’ and ‘Grain Brain’ for your own health to live the most quality lifestyle you can individually, as a family and as a nation. I also love reading about and finding parallels between various religions
First carMy first car was a 1950 Hudson Hornet. I bought it for a hundred dollars in 1961. Pat and I got married in 1962, so that was the first car we had
Current carsThe car I drive now is a five year old white Mercedes E350. Patricia drives a Mercedes two-year old SUV. I had a time of about 17 years where I went without a car. I was travelling and bought my daughters and I didn’t need a car. All during that time Pat was driving a Mercedes 450 SL, so she maintained her driving style
First JobsMy first job was on the Reservation and I took a lot of teasing. There was a gentleman who bought the grocery store on the Reservation and my dad would do a few favors for him. He was from one of the Soviet Union countries. He spoke with an accent to his English. He gave me a job sweeping up his store at the end of the day. At the beginning of the day I worked cutting up the meat and weighing the meat – the steaks, the bologna, et cetera. One of the next jobs I had on the Reservation was my sophomore year in high school. I had just won the State Cross Country Championship and my friend, Benny Kelly, and I found a job building grain elevators working in Valentine, Nebraska. Nobody would rent us a place because we were two young Indian boys, so for a couple of weeks we lived in the back of a car and bathed in a creek. I think that’s when I first saw and picked out the Hudson Hornet. One summer job at Kansas University was working at a paper mill where they made corrugated paper. The waste products from that I would drive out to the dump. I love that because I actually didn’t have a driver’s license when I first got the job. They taught me how to drive the dump truck and that was a thrill driving that truck after my freshman year
FamilyPat and I have been married for 52 years. We have four daughters, 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Our daughters have all done very well. Christy is actually retired after being a business executive with AAA for over twenty-five years, but is now doing real estate in Hawaii and in Sacramento. Lisa is still in the real estate business. Billie Jo is a fish and game warden. She has her master’s degree in Sports Performance and hopefully one of these days will retire from fish and game and work at a college. Megan works in the insurance business. They have all found some happiness in their lives so we are very blessed there
Inspirational grandsonDominic is the one I gave my Gold Medal to. There is an article in Runner’s World about that. Dominic was born at thirty weeks and had to learn to speak. The intricate muscles aren’t developed because when you are breast-fed or with a bottle you develop the muscles with which to speak. He has a brilliant mind, not declared a child with Asperger’s, but he has that trait and had to learn to socialize. He was tested as a four year old on word identification because he was not speaking and they stopped testing him as a 13 year old. The word he knew at age four was ‘injection’ but not ‘dilapidated.’ He told his mom he knew it because she taught him how to inject the turkey at Thanksgiving. I gave my Gold Medal to him. We had to work with him to call me ‘paw-paw’ and when he could do it he started crying because it was a major achievement for him. I saw a little warrior so I had to give him a gift. He was a warrior who had achieved. We went to Hawaii and the wind was blowing. Sand was blowing off of the lava rocks. Pat was calling to me, ‘Bill, Bill, Bill!’ Little Dominic’s sense of humor came out as in the next days he would tiptoe up and say, ‘Bill, Bill, Bill, Papa.’ A couple of years later I gave him my Gold Medal as I watched this young warrior mature
PetsI had a dog when I was little called Ginger. He must have got into someone else’s property or been fighting their dog because I was this little boy and my dad couldn’t find my dog. Evidently someone had told him the dog was badly, badly hurt. He saw Ginger underneath the porch at the house. There was blood on the back of his neck and it looked like someone had hit him with an ax. He wouldn’t come out. My dad said we had to help him, ‘Be careful son because he might bite, but I think he’ll come out for you.’ So I went halfway under and called him out. He wouldn’t let me go anywhere near his neck, but he let me pet his paw. I just started crying because the back of his neck had been hit with an ax. He got up and crawled out. He could barely walk and we walked about a half mile out into the fields. My dad had a pistol and he told me what he was going to do and he said that I had to get Ginger out there. What a lesson. Oh, my God! My dog followed me and he seemed like he knew what was going to happen. He let me get down close to him and I kind of kissed him. My dad was worried that he was in such pain that he might bite me, but I got down really, really close to him. I then backed away about ten feet and my dad shot him to end his pain and I buried him. That was my last pet
More PetsMy daughters got their cats and I couldn’t stand cats. But these two cats loved me. I’d come back from a trip and they’d come up and sit on my lap. I’d stroke them and finally I’d be the one to feed them and brush them. I never liked cats, but I fell in love with these two cats. One was named Manu and the other was Samantha or Sam. When I got back from a trip Manu would give a certain kind of call. We put them to rest over a year ago. They were both over sixteen years old. When I was saying goodbye to him and telling him about this special place where kitty-cats go my wife was thinking, ‘Let’s get this over with. I gave him a kiss and said, ‘I’m not going to look back, but we will see each other again.’ When I walked away he gave his call. It was so pitiful that I looked back and went to help him for about another five minutes and then gave him a kiss on the top of the head one more time and told him, ‘Now no more calls. You’re going to be fine. You’re going to go to sleep and one of these days we’ll see each other again and we’ll remember each other.’ I walked away and kind of paused by the door and he didn’t say anything. He didn’t call and they put him to sleep. I came back home and sat down and there was one side of me that Manu would cuddle and Samantha would be on the other side. Samantha would no longer go to her side, but to the side Manu would cuddle. About three months later we had to put her to sleep and that was hard. They both had cancer. So, I’ve had three pets that were family to me
Favorite breakfastEggs have been described in the book, ‘Grain Brain,’ as a very healthy food and in no way have they proved eating them lead to high cholesterol. I’ve always loved eggs. I take some eggs, some olives, an avocado and some extra virgin olive oil with some salsa. I’m getting some protein and my Omega-3s. I may also have a gluten-free slice of toast
Favorite mealIf I had the choice most often it would be sushi. I love sushi. Part of my cleansing of my body occurred in Japan in 1964 when I started eating sushi. I tried it and I loved it. In a sense in a lot of ways I was going toward high fatty acids
Favorite beveragesI never really had a favorite, but probably ice tea and water. I used to drink diet soft drinks because they were available, but I’m convinced now that they kill brain cells
First running memoryMy first racing memory was the one I talked about getting last place in the 440 yard dash in a summer track meet at the School of Mines in the Black Hills. Was I out of place there running in my Levi’s, basketball shoes and t-shirt? They all had spiked shoes running shorts and singlets
Running heroesBuster Charles
Greatest running momentI’d have to say the greatest was the Gold Medal. The one that was the most necessary was the World Record with Gerry and me. Gerry and I talk all of the time and this is an example of how our conversations go. Gerry calls and says, ‘Billy, I’m looking at this photo of me setting the World Record in San Diego and there is some guy in a white uniform I am about to lap. Can you help me identify him?’ I’ll tell Gerry, ‘I don’t know who that person might have been was because I was in the lead and I never looked back. Gerry is probably the greatest American distance runner until Galen Rupp started establishing his times. I look at George Young as the all-time greatest based on longevity. He earned a medal, four Olympic teams – he’s one of the greatest. So there’s Gerry, George, Pre, Galen, Bob Kennedy. Bob Schul is there with me, but we are both behind George Young. Now you have Lagat and Galen and others who are on the verge. With humility I can say that I had a Gold Medal and World Record along with five American Records. I broke seven records, but got beat when I broke two of them. The Gold Medal was a gift. The others I earned. I have a place in the history of sport. I let others debate who was better and who was not
Worst running momentThe Mt. Sac Relays after the Olympic Games. I told pat I was going to go for a World Record and to keep the camera on me. We started and immediately I went low blood sugar. I was ready to pass out. I went into the infield and was down on all fours with the heaves. Eventually I recovered enough to walk. I knew I needed something sweet, so I got a Coca-Cola. In my mind I was going for a World Record, but I dropped out of the race. About a week later Pat said, ‘I kept the camera on you. Do you want to review it now?’ So I watched myself pull off of the track, go on the infield, collapse on all fours and get sick. I definitely needed help because of hypoglycemia. I started thinking what I could do if I wasn’t hypoglycemic
Childhood dreams: I never had a dream that I could pinpoint, but my dad would read poetry to me. If you have a moment I will go grab one of the things he read to me because I carry it around with me. I told Mohammed Gammoudi about it and I told Dr. Hussein Haleem about it. I did this during the time of Ramadan and they were all fasting. They wanted to take me to dinner and they wanted to know something special that helped me to become an Olympian. So I said this poem. I will read it like my dad did for me. ‘Ben Adams, may his tribe increase. Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace. And saw within the moonlight in his room making it rich and like a little alien bloom an angel writing a book of Gold exhibiting peace had made Ben Adams bold. And to the presence in the room he said, ‘what writest thou?’ The vision raised its head and with a lip made of all sweet accord answered, ‘The names of those who love the Lord.’ ‘And is mine one?’ said Ben Adams. ‘May not so,’ replied the angel. Ben Adams spoke more low but surely still and said, ‘I pray thee then write me as one who loves his fellow man.’ The angel wrote and vanished. The next night he came again and with a great awakening light showed the names of whom the love of God had blessed, and lo, Ben Adams name led all the rest.’ My dad would read that to me and he would tell me we’re all related. And we should respect our fellow man. He would tell me, ‘you need a dream to heal a broken soul, so you have to find a dream son.’ He would say, ‘I hope you try sports.’ I didn’t really have a dream, but my dad died when I was twelve and I thought that he meant for me to be an athlete. As I matured obviously he wanted me to find a passion. I knew that every dream has a passion; every passion has its destiny. I say that a lot. I don’t know who’s original quote that was, but I learned it from my dad. So I wanted to be an athlete. I tried boxing. That hurt. I tried rodeo. That hurt. I tried football. That hurt. But I felt peace; I felt tranquility when I ran. I almost felt a spiritual presence. I think my dream was just trying to seek higher ground to find some worth within me that I could maybe share with the rest of the world and help to bring peace to other people. It all started with my dad telling me we are all related
Funny memoriesI thought that by the end of my career I could match Clarke record for record if I could just balance hypoglycemia. What gave me great strength was when I saw world records being broken thinking, ‘I can do that.’ When I was 59 years old Haile Gebrselassie ran 26:46 for 10k and we were heading out to dinner that night. I told Pat I needed ten minutes. I go in my office, turn off the fan, turn off the lights and I sat there. She pounded on the door and said, ‘We’re going to be late.’ ‘Five more minutes,’ I replied. I came out and said, ‘I had one in me.’ ‘One what?’ she asked. ‘I had one 26:46 in me.’ She wanted to know what I was talking about and I told her about the new World record and that I had one in me. She said, ‘My God, you’re almost sixty! Just let it go. Within a year or two he ran in the 26:20s and never in my mind did I think I could run that fast and I let it go (laughing). That was one of the most memorable moments of my athletic career. Letting it go
Favorite places to travelI’ve been to 108 countries. Any time I have a chance to fly into the Swiss Alps and go into Zurich or Lausanne, Switzerland and maybe into Paris or Monaco. The Swiss Alps and the vineyards are like looking at a Monet painting. When we get off a plane early in the morning in Zurich heading for the Olympic museum in Lausanne and there is a little bit of fog you look out and it does look like Monet’s paintings. I could do that over and over again. I have a fixation with Japan ever since the first time I went there in 1964. When I walked through the streets I could tell that people honored themselves with their humility to honor their country. That tied strongly with what I was trying to do as a young Indian boy and is what I share with the youth of the world. I see people honoring themselves to honor their tribal nation and to honor humanity and to make the world a better place. That culture and entire country honoring themselves – the Swiss scenes that look like Monet’s paintings blend in with the Japanese people trying to honor themselves and my culture, tradition and spirituality where I extract the virtues and values to empower culture, tradition and spirituality and transfer them into new educational pursuits and new humanitarian pursuits to make the world a better place. I loved going to Greece because my journey took me from the sacredness of the Black Hills to the sacredness in Japan where off in the distance I could see Mount Fuji and with earning the Gold Medal maybe the right to stand on top of the mountain - the goodness of Mount Olympus. That is why these countries are special
Final Comments from InterviewerIt was a great honor and humbling to spend three hours on the telephone with Billy Mills. Yes, he is the only U.S. runner to win an Olympic Gold Medal at 10,000 meters, but he has taken his gift and given back a thousand times over for others. I thoroughly enjoyed his candor, humility, humor and some stories he told such as his visit with Mohammed and Nadia Gammoudi and about his hero, Buster Charles, which haven’t been heard by many. He was humorous at the end of our phone call as we have very similar marathon personal best times. Billy: ‘I think our marathon times are pretty close, pretty similar.’ Me: ‘Mine is 2:22:34.’ Billy: ‘You might have me beat.’ Me: ‘Maybe by three or four seconds. What’s a few seconds between friends, right?’ Billy: ‘We’ll call it a tie. Gerry and I called ours a tie.’ Me: ‘Okay, we’ll call it a tie.’ (Both of us laughing)