SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) _ Olympic champion runner Billy Mills is marking the 50th anniversary of his 1964 gold medal by launching a grant program to help young people.
Mills’ organization called Running Strong for American Indian Youth will award 50 “Dreamstarter” grants of $10,000 each to youth-oriented community groups and nonprofits over the next five years.
“Dreamstarter will help young American Indians see themselves transform into champions through the pursuit of a dream,” Mills told The Bismarck Tribune.
The Oglala Lakota runner from South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation won the 10,000-meter race at the Tokyo Olympics on Oct. 14, 1964. He was the first American to win that race. He co-founded the Running Strong organization in 1986, to help impoverished American Indian communities.
Mills said he wants young people to think about how they can make their community a better place and how to pursue their dreams.
“I was able to avoid a poverty of dreams,” he told the Argus Leader. “We want other Native American youth to have the opportunity to avoid a poverty of dreams far more devastating than economic poverty in many ways.”
Grant applications begin Nov. 1.
Mills, 76, now lives in California. Last year, President Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian award.
Mills, whose story was featured in a 1983 movie called “Running Brave,” has served on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and has been a spokesman for Christian Relief Services.
Mills told the Tribune that after he won the gold medal a half century ago, he wanted to help others. “I had to give back,” he said.