Reflections on Billy Mills Event

January 31, 2014
Billy Mills digs it up

Some reflections and impressions from Wednesday evening with Billy Mills presented by the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub.

The sold out venue was still overflowing with runners and other sports lovers of Anchorage. Billy Mills, the only American winner of the Olympic 10,000 meter run, and holder of one of the – if not the single – biggest upset in Olympic history, gave an inspiring and insightful talk about the integral value of sport in the world today.

“He was gracious, humble, funny, and introspective… He was true,” quotes 2010 ASHOF Inductee and Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher. And indeed he was. Reaching beyond the low-hanging fruit of his notable success, he quickly honed the evening to the core values that breathe life into the lungs of every athlete. “Billy Mills spoke from the heart, to the hearts, of everyone in the room,” Fletcher said.

Beginning with a childhood story of his Father’s early lessons on character and personal integrity, Mills always framed his athletic successes in terms of his own personal development. Growing up poor and losing his parents at an early age, sport played an integral role for Mills. Among the pains of ethnic stereotyping and low socioeconomic stature, he recalls that the secret of his success was learning how to take responsibility for his own destiny.

Mill’s stories were full of soul, and spirit. He described the role of sport as a life path, saying that competition – in its pristine purity – is nothing but a humbling experience. He described how taught properly, sport is always about building character, and how it gives one an invaluable opportunity to understand the delicate and symbiotic role of wisdom and compassion in our daily lives.

For the author, the highpoint of the evening came when Mills explained how important our youth are, how sport can be a vehicle to happiness for them, and how critical it is to provide them with good teachers for their journey. “Sport can be so powerful for the youth when it is taught properly, and it can be so harmful to them when it is taught improperly,” he said. When asked to expand on “teaching sport properly”, he described two examples of how role models affect the youth watching them so closely.

In listening to Mills answer this question, I was struck by the fact that Mills naturally speaks in the vital context of being a role model. He doesn’t suggest intellectual strategies for telling athletes how to be athletes. Instead, his humility and honesty illustrate the fact that being the athlete that your successors can look up to is the most valuable form of teaching.

The event was followed by a meet-and-greet with photos and signatures in the theatre. After the crowds had died down, Mills sat in the cafe area with the event organizers and a few local runners. Sitting at the table one person asked him, “So how do you inspire teenagers?”

“I ask about their dreams,” he said.

Some assorted videos about Mill’s gold medal: