A 1964 Olympic gold medalist returned to Haskell Indian Nations University on Thursday where he encouraged Haskell and other universities to maintain vibrant sports programs.
Sports played a major role throughout his life, he said, and taught him the value of critical thinking, spirituality and humility.
Billy Mills’ victory was seen as a major upset at the time. That was evident from video footage of the race shown during the Thursday event, when announcers screamed “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” as he sped by his competitors on the home stretch of the race.
“It blows me away, today, that I’m the only person from the Western Hemisphere to win that race,” said Mills, who will turn 72 later this month.
Having lost his parents at a young age, Mills said he struggled with his emotions while in college, and contemplated suicide.
He turned to sports to bring focus and emotional stability to his life, having worked with great coaches and leaders in the past.
“If I hadn’t met (longtime Haskell coach) Tony Coffin, I have no idea where my life would have gone,” Mills said.
Mills said he would write down his goal — to become an Olympic gold medalist — again and again throughout his training, and would work on things like visualizing himself being successful in addition to his physical workouts.
“I probably tried harder than any student here,” Mills recalled of his Haskell days. “But that wasn’t enough” to become a world-class athlete, saying he had to take his training to another level to be able to compete with the world’s best.
With 60 yards remaining in his gold medal race, Mills recalled digging deep inside himself to gather the energy — both mental and physical — to finish strong.
“I was thinking, ‘It’s got to be now. It’s got to be now. I may never be this close again,’” Mills said. “‘In the last 30 yards, it was ‘I’m going to win. I’m going to win.’”