James Pine has his heart set on empowering the Oglala Lakota, both young and old.
And Pine, 23, of Rapid City, has been awarded a $10,000 grant to take his desire and run with it. He is one of 10 recipients of the Dreamstarter grant program, which is administered by Running Strong, an American Indian youth nonprofit based in Alexandria, Va.
Each of the 10 awardees received $10,000 to start youth camps promoting health and wellness across the nation. Each will work with a mentoring nonprofit to help implement their startup camps.
Pine, who works at Dakota Business Center delivering office supplies and installing office furniture, will be working with Dustin Martin, program director for Wings of America in Santa Fe, N.M.
Born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Pine knows firsthand the problems that people there deal with daily.
“There’s not much to do,” he said last week in a phone interview while he was at the Dreamstarter Academy in Washington, D.C. “There are a lot of bad habits. There’s a lot of suicide. There are a lot of drugs and alcohol, and there’s not much to turn to. On a daily basis, a lot of people are bored, and they want to hang out with their friends, and they do bad things.”
An avid runner, Pine said, “I just want to bring my people up. I just want to help them out. I want to be a mentor and a coach. I just want to help the youth, and not even just the youth. I want to help everybody, elders, too, old people, tall, small — anybody.”
This summer, Pine said, he will be starting a series of two-day youth camps, dubbed Lakota Forever Running and Fitness, in eight communities across the reservation. He hopes to start the camps in June, continuing through August.
Pine is a former state-qualifying cross-country and track runner for Pine Ridge High School.
“Running has helped me in a major way, and I don’t even know if I can put it into words, but it was just an awesome thing because when I was younger, growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, I went through the hardships, just like everyone else,” he said.
Running Strong was co-founded by 1964 Olympic champion Billy Mills, an Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, who to date is the only American to win a gold medal in the Olympic 10,000-meter run.
“Billy Mills, he played an important role in my life,” Pine said. “He was kind of like a hero, just someone to look up to. He was like the glimmer of hope. You know, you see all these NBA stars and these people on TV, and none of them are Native American. Some people get it in their head: ‘Oh, I can never be that,’ but then you look at Billy Mills. He’s a national idol.”
Pine applied to the Dreamstarter Program with friend and colleague Martin. The duo met last summer at a Wings of America program that trained Pine and others to facilitate youth running and fitness camps.
“Immediately, James stepped into a leadership role and was a leader for those facilitators that came down from Pine Ridge,” Martin said. “It was obvious to me that they looked up to him, and they respected his guidance when he gave it. So when we had this opportunity to apply for this grant, it was a no-brainer for me.”
Pine’s father, Dale, has been a long-time supporter of Wings of America running and fitness programs, Martin said. Dale Pine has coached at Pine Ridge High School for more than 25 years.
He is a leading force of Team One Spirit, which facilitates running programs and raises funds for youth on the reservation. The team sent James Pine to run with four other Oglala Lakota runners in the New York City Marathon. The group is collectively called the Lakota Five. Pine finished the 26-mile, 385-yard race with a time of 3:52:31.
Partnering with Pine to start running camps at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a natural transition from an already strong partnership, Martin said.
“Dale Pine has been a longtime advocate and helper of Wings of America, and I sort of see myself as the next generation of Wings,” he said. “In a lot of ways, I see James as the continuation of that legacy, you know, and myself included, so together, he and I can continue that legacy of Wings working in South Dakota, and particularly in Pine Ridge.”
Pine said Wings of America has granted him an additional $9,000 to start the Pine Ridge running camps, which he said will incorporate games, mentorship and wellness education, all the while promoting the sport of running.
“Everything is going to revolve around running and being healthy and living a good, natural life,” he said. “If you make a game out of it, it’s very interesting and fun to them, even though they will be running the whole time.”
Pine said he will coordinate with schools on the reservation to see what gym space is available for his camps, though there’s always the option of holding them outdoors. He said he will also be seeking sponsorships from local businesses.
Running “took me a lot of places, and it brought me to where I am now,” said Pine, who lives in Rapid City with his girlfriend and 1-year-old daughter. “I’m a dad now. I just changed my life around … I just feel obligated to help my people and give back to the community.”
When Billy Mills raced to one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history — winning the 10,000-meter gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games — a lot of people wanted to congratulate him.
Mills received a telegram from his best friend, Leroy Chief, and his cousin, Harry Eagle Bull. A note from John Glenn challenged Billy, a fellow Marine, to a race – the competitive Glenn said he’d ride his motorcycle, and if he didn’t win, they’d have to race again with Glenn on his rocket ship.
But perhaps the most unique congratulation originated over 5,700 miles away from the athlete’s village in Tokyo and took a bit longer than a telegram to reach Mills.
Back on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where Mills had grown up, just before the race he wasn’t supposed to win, the community filled a sacred pipe with tobacco and prayed to the four directions, to mother earth and to the creator, that Billy would represent himself with dignity, and in so doing represent his people — the people of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) tribe and the United States — with dignity.
When Mills returned home from Japan, the tribe held a powwow in his honor and bestowed upon him his Lakota name: Tamakoca Tekihila, which translates to “Loves His Country”.
It was a name Mills would live up to not just on Oct. 14, 1964, when he won the only 10,000-meter Olympic gold in U.S history, but every day since that epic race.
The Path To The Medal
The story of Mills’ journey to the Olympics reads like a Dickens novel. Born to Grace and Sidney Mills on June 30, 1938, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Billy Mills joined a family that would soon number eight children. His parents divorced when he was young, but he was close with both and devastated by the death of his mother when he was 8, and especially by the loss of his father four years later.
One of Mills’ strongest memories of his father is from a fishing trip the two took shortly after his mother’s death.
“My dad looked at me and told me, ‘Son, you have broken wings.’ He said I had to look beyond the hurt, hate, jealousy, self-pity. All of those emotions destroy you. He said, ‘Look deeper son. Way down deep is where the dreams live. Find your dream, son. It’s the pursuit of a dream that’ll
heal a broken soul.'”
Mills’ environment did not lend itself to the fulfillment of dreams. Pine Ridge is consistently one of the poorest communities in the United States, and suffers from a crippling mix of complicating issues: alcohol abuse, unemployment, youth suicide and others.
Besides these immediate barriers, the native community was under legal and psychological attack from the federal government — Mills’ date of birth is closer to the massacre at Wounded Knee than it is to today, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act wasn’t passed until 1978 — and people struggled to maintain their identity in the face of a government mandate to assimilate. He says he grew up with the knowledge that his people had experienced “our own genocide.”
Mills’ father was Oglala Lakota, but his mother was white, which means that their child is iyeska, a Lakota term which he translates as “mixed blood”. At times Mills felt held at arms length by the most traditional and full-blooded native people. Achievement, measured by accolades like academic and athletic success, sometimes seemed to come at the expense of community.
He did well enough academically to gain admission to the Haskell Indian School (now the Haskell Indian Nations University), but the school was far from his family, in Kansas, and choosing to leave the reservation brought additional scrutiny and wariness from the native people who stayed.
Mills says that those Oglala who chose to go to the school were “rejected twofold. Those traditionalists … couldn’t understand why we were trying to engage in the society that had basically created the genocide of us. And society basically rejected us. The theme of the day was the melting pot. But the melting pot, if you look at it from the Native American perspective, was to take the Indian-ness out of me.”
Running became Mills’ escape from his personal struggles. No matter what was going on in his life, when he ran, he found tranquility. At Haskell, Mills’ running prowess caught the attention of college coaches, and he entered a world even more removed from his native community when he enrolled at the University of Kansas. he seemed to be doing well, but internally he was struggling.
“Racism in America was breaking me,” he says. “Nobody knew, but it was breaking me.”
Mills says he came frighteningly close to committing suicide, “close enough to scare me to this day.” But in his darkest moment, he heard a voice.
“I just heard energy: ‘Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.’ The fourth and last time, soothing, powerful, gentle loving, very direct, ‘Don’t.’ And to me it was my dad’s voice. I got off my chair and I wrote down a dream to heal a broken soul. I wrote ‘Gold medal, 10,000 meter run.'”
Healing A Broken Soul
The journey toward his dream is an epic tale that has already been the subject of a feature film, “Running Brave.”
He found some success in college, becoming a three-time All-American in cross country, but his career really took off when he joined the Marines and married his college sweetheart, Patricia. The Marines offered stability in the form of a special training camp for Olympic hopefuls, medical expertise that identified and helped manage the Type II diabetes that had caused Billy to unexpectedly crash in previous races, and a strong mentor in the form of coach and Olympic gold medalist Tommy Thompson Sr.
Coach Thompson’s belief in Mills’ dream was a key component of his success, but even more important was the confidence and support he drew from Patricia, who put her own goal of a career in art on hold in order to support his training.
In a time when Olympic athletes were still held to the strictest definition of amateurism, Patricia was his one-woman support crew, providing meals and snacks to help manage his diabetes, caring for their newborn daughter, and providing emotional support when almost no one else believed in Mills’ dream.
In Tokyo, Mills had memorized where Patricia would be sitting before the race — 95 yards from the finish, 32 seats up. In visualizing the race, he
designated it as the point where he would start his all-out sprint. Despite going up against athletes such as Australian Ron Clarke — the reigning world record holder who had run nearly a minute faster than Mills’ personal best — Mills’ belief in himself never wavered. His goal was to win.
When the gun fired on race day, Mills hung with the leaders, despite a pace for the 10,000-meter race that was nearly as fast as his best for 5,000 meters. On the final lap, he found himself one of just three men in contention for the win, sitting on Clarke’s shoulder with Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia just behind him.
The bell lap played out like an obstacle course as the leaders weaved around nearly a dozen lapped runners, and Billy was pushed off balance twice in the jostling for position. Stumbling into lane 2 in the aggressive fray, Billy seemed to fade out of contention on the backstretch when Gammoudi surged. Mills approached Patricia’s seat about eight yards behind the leaders.
Coming off the curve of the straightaway, just under his wife’s position, a lapped runner began to float wide, and Mills saw daylight: space to sprint for victory. He pumped his arms, lifted his knees, and gave it all he had. Glancing left at a lapped runner, Mills thought he saw an eagle on the competitor’s singlet. He remembered his father’s words: “The pursuit of a dream will heal your broken wings.”
He flew with the wings of an eagle to the finish line, breaking the tape first.
Despite dreaming about the victory for years, Mills could hardly believe his dream had come true. When an official came up to him immediately after the race and asked, “Who are you?” Mills momentarily panicked, fearing he had somehow stopped a lap early. In footage from the race, you can see him holding up one finger, asking a question.
The Japanese official confirms with a single raised finger of his own: first place, Olympic champion. Mills laughs, still seemingly disbelieving, and waves to the crowd.
What does one do then as a newly-crowned Olympic gold medalist? Mills knew generally what he wanted to do after the Olympics.
In the Lakota tradition, someone who has experienced success holds a “giveaway,” a ceremony that recognizes those who have supported them on their journey and gives back. But Mills wasn’t sure how to hold his giveaway. The tribe had been his entire existence, and he was overwhelmed by the number of people he wanted to recognize and share his victory with.
Again, Mills turned to Patricia. Her suggestion? “Take the inspiration that was given to you and pass it on to another generation.”
Since the medal ceremony in Tokyo, the rest of his life has been a choreographed giveaway. The process began in 1983, when Mills worked to create “Running Brave,” which chronicles his Olympic journey. He still meets strangers around the world who tell him they were inspired by his movie.
The giveaway started working in earnest, though, when Mills met Gene Krizek, a World War II veteran with extensive connections in Washington who had just started his Christian Relief Services charity. Concerned about the plight of Native Americans, Gene enlisted Billy’s help as a spokesperson for a new charity dedicated to bringing “resources and a sense of hope” to American Indian communities.
In honor of Mills’ achievements, the two named the charity Running Strong for American Indian Youth (http://indianyouth.org/). The charity serves the community through activities such as organic gardening initiatives, helping to weatherproof homes, funding projects to document and preserve native culture and language, and, of course, fundraising through road races.
Since 1991, Running Strong has donated more than $41 million in programs and services that benefit American Indian youth and native communities across the country. Mills’ official role with Running Strong is to serve as national spokesperson, which he does in addition to his day job as a professional speaker.
Mills is on the road for upwards of 300 days a year, speaking to diverse groups at museums, universities and in the military, his broad perspective
providing inspiration with which just about anyone can identify. Most of his speeches emphasize “global unity through the dignity, character and beauty of global diversity.” Billy speaks with deliberation and passion, his calm, soothing voice belying the urgency of his message.
He has a teacher’s ability to explain the wider historical context of an event or problem, and a belief in people’s ability to work together that is so strong as to be spiritual. The combined effect is to produce a broad understanding of our interconnected problems and a confidence that good people will be able to fix them. It is this spirit that inspires his latest endeavor.
Mills wanted to do something special in October in recognition of the 50th anniversary of his gold medal run. Of all the problems facing the youth of Pine Ridge and other Native American communities, he is most concerned about “the poverty of dreams”: the grind of financial poverty that can rob American Indian youth of the ability to imagine a better future and chase after their goals.
As his father said all those years ago, “it is the pursuit of a dream that will heal a broken soul.” So, the Dreamstarter project (http://indianyouth.org/Dreamstarter), launching this year, encourages young people to imagine a way to improve their community and then provides logistical and economic support for that dream.
For each of the next five years, 10 young dreamers will be selected to have their vision come true. The applicants must find a mentor organization to work with in implementing their ideas, and will participate in a leadership skills-building conference in Washington, D.C., before receiving $10,000 from Running Strong for American Indian Youth to help make their dreams a reality.
The program is notable for the agency that it provides to the grant recipients. Besides general themes for each year (this year’s theme is wellness, next year’s is the arts) and the stipulation that projects must be aimed at communities composed primarily of native people, there are few restrictions on what the dreams can entail. I
Instead of throwing money at a problem, the Dreamstarter program empowers young people to identify a problem in their communities and come up with a solution. Essentially, Mills is creating leadership.
“Loves His Country,” the name given to Mills by his tribe after his race, has a dual meaning, because as a mixed-blood iyeska, Billy has two countries and loves them both.
His love for his Lakota Sioux tribe has led him on his 50-year quest to give back to the community and improve the lives of native people in America. And his love for the United States, evidenced by his service to the federal government as a Marine and his representation of the United States as an Olympian, means he never forgets the power and responsibility that the U.S. government has as it relates to Native Americans.
As Mills says, “our young people … are going to be our warriors in the battles of the 21st century. Our battles will no longer be fought out on the plains of the Dakotas. The battles are going to be fought … with our intellect, and they’re going to be fought in the court systems of America.
“Not against the United States of America, but by educating our congressional people [on Native American treaty rights] … and fighting for the implementation of those treaty rights. [And that will] help empower Native American young people to help make America a more beautiful place.”
Through the Dreamstarter project, Mills is moving forward the process of empowerment.
This past year, while visiting a tribe in North Dakota, Mills was given a second Indian name, one that translates as, “He Whose Footsteps We Can
Hear, But We Cannot See Him.” Like his original Indian name, this one has two meanings.
The first references the race where Mills dreamed of victory — 50 years ago, Billy Mills’ footsteps, so fast you could barely see him, ignited a nation, so fast you could barely see him. The second is that Mills’ footsteps, the impression he leaves behind, will last long after his life is over.
What began as a journey to heal a broken soul by chasing an Olympic dream has become a lasting legacy that enables others to join the pursuit of dreams and goals.
TRAVERSE CITY, MICHIGAN – Olympic Gold Medalist and humanitarian warrior, Billy Mills brought people to their feet in standing ovation as he shared his experiences with diabetes and traditional healing in the second day plenary session of the National Indian Health Board’s 30th Annual Consumer Conference.
“We are so honored to have Billy here with us today. His words are inspiring and he truly makes everyone feel special. He is someone filled with positive energy. I believe the Creator is using him to help make our people achieve their dreams whether it’s running a marathon, living a healthier lifestyle or improving their health through traditional foods and healing,”
said NIHB Chairperson Cathy Abramson.
“Billy is a great advocate for health, not just physically, but spiritually and mentally too. His message today was truly inspirational for those who are suffering from diseases, like diabetes, in hopes that they renew their health.”
Mills, Oglala Lakota, who grew up on the reservation has lived with borderline diabetes for most of his life. In his speech today, he told a story about tingling fingers and blurry vision – both symptoms of diabetes as he ran in the Olympic race that won him the gold medal.
“One lap to go. I was pushed. I didn’t quit but I could feel myself accept third place. I will let them get 10 yards ahead of me. At this point I could feel the tingling sensation, with my vision coming and going. 150 meters to go and I was nine yards behind, 120 meters and 8.5 meters behind, 100 meters and 8 meters behind. Someone cut into me, but the fourth lane opened up. Lifting my knees, strengthening my stride I took my opportunity. As I went by in the center of my opponent’s jersey was an eagle, and I heard my dad, ‘if you follow the teachings you will have the wings of an eagle.’
In my mind, I was thinking I will never be this close again.
Then I felt the tape break across my chest. A Japanese official said, ‘Who are you?’ At that point, I had to find the German and tell him that his eagle helped me win. I found him but there was no eagle on his jersey, just the Olympic rings. It was a simple perception. Perceptions can create us or destroy us. We need to take control of them. Diabetes can take control of us. The traditional virtues and values give us confidence and clarity to take control. Realizing that is the easy part, the hard part is doing it every day,”
The growing epidemic of diabetes represents one of Indian Country’s public health challenges. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest prevalence of diabetes amongst all US racial and ethnic groups. In response to this epidemic, Congress established the Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) in 1997, and is up for renewal in 2014.
In an update today on the Tribal Leaders Diabetes Committee, Buford Rolin, Chair of the Committee said that Special Diabetes Program for Indians continues to improve the health of Indian country and has led to significant advances in diabetes treatment, prevention, and education. SDPI programs across Indian country are achieving dramatic reductions in risk factors such as blood pressure, weight, bad cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
“Diabetes is an issue that we care so passionately about. Our collaborative efforts, as tribal leaders and tribal health care professionals, will help keep Indian country on a path to a diabetes-free future. It is important that Congress renew this program past fiscal year 2014. The lives of our people depend on it,”
added Rolin, who is also the Chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
President Barack Obama will be honoring civilians today with the second-highest civilian honor—the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal— in 1969 the Citizens Medal was established to honor American citizens who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens.
Among the list of 13 selected is Billy Mills, an Oglala Lakota. Mills co-founded and serves as the spokesman for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization that supports cultural programs and provides health and housing assistance for Native American communities.
“I am humbled and honored to be recognized by the President in this extraordinary way,” said Billy on the Running Strong for American Indian Youth website. “The most powerful thing you can give to a child is a dream. I hope every child in Indian Country knows what is possible if you follow your dream.”
Mills is most remembered for his unexpected Gold Medal win in the 10,000 meter run during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Today, he remains the only American to ever win this event it is is frequently referred to as the greatest Olympic distance race of all time. Afterwards Mills received his Lakota name, “Makoce Te’hila” which means “Loves His Country” or more traditionally “Respects the Earth”.
Today Billy travels over 300 days every year. He visits American Indian communities throughout the U.S. and speaks to American Indian youth about healthy lifestyles and taking pride in their heritage, states the website for running Strong.
Mills along with the other 12 honorees were among a group of 6,000 nominations.