There are times in life when a desperate moment changes everything. Take little Billy Mills for example. Born into poverty on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, Billy was orphaned at the age of 12. While attending boarding school, he began running as an outlet to help deal with his traumatic childhood. Years later, after breaking a number of high school records, Billy attended the University of Kansas on a track scholarship. He became a 3-time All-American, and following graduation, joined the Marine Corps. But even there, he couldn’t quench his desire to run. Following a rigorous 18-month training schedule where he ran over 100 miles/week. Billy was named to the 1964 USA Olympic team, qualifying for the 10,000 meters as well as the marathon.
The Native-American long-distance runner had dreamed of Olympic glory all his life. Then one summer day in 1964, he found himself in Tokyo, Japan in the starting blocks of the 6-mile race. The gun sounded, and the race began. Unfortunately, Mills was far from favored to win the event, having posted a qualifying time some 50 seconds behind Ron Clarke of Australia, the world record holder in the event. In addition, no American had ever won the 10,000 meters. The pre-media coverage focused almost entirely on Clarke and the other world-class runners, largely ignoring the Sioux Indian with the crewcut. And for good reason. With one lap to go. Mills was still 15 meters behind the leaders. The race was all but over… or so everyone thought.
It was a desperate moment for Mills. A time for opportunity. His one chance. His time. He was in the race of his life. Having endured racial slurs and predictions of failure by the experts. Billy knew that this moment only came along once-in-a-lifetime. It was now or never. No second chance. There would be no gold or glory for second place. And Billy Mills knew it.
Reaching deep within, the 26-year-old former Marine found a reserve tank of energy stored for just such a time as this. Calling on every muscle in his body, Billy raced the final 100 yards, galloping like a thoroughbred. Passing Clarke and the pack, and with agony etched on his face, Mills crossed the finish line, arms raised towards the Japanese sky in triumph. He had visualized breaking that finish line tape up to 75 times a day, and it had paid off. Mills won the Gold, setting a new Olympic Record in the process. His amazing come-from-behind finish became one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.
Because his was such an unexpected victory, the Olympic official rushed up to the new champion and asked, “Who are you?” Just moments earlier no one had known his name. Now the whole world knew who Billy Mills was. To date in Olympic competition, no other American has ever won the 10,000 meters. But on that Summer day back in ’64, a Native-American orphan turned a moment of desperation into his moment of destiny.
Don’t miss your moment.