Canadian Running

No Podium Necessary

Meeting Billy Mills again, 24 years after he presented me with a medal at the 1993 North American Indigenous Games, was one of the most meaningful events of my life

- By Tarrant Cross Child

As I stood proudly on the podium, I couldn’t believe who was about to present my medal. I had so many things I had wanted to say, and so many questions, but I was speechless. All I could do was smile as he placed the medal around my neck, shook my hand, congratula­ted me and encouraged me to keep running.

It was my hero, Billy Mills—a Oglala Lakota athlete from the Pine Ridge Reservatio­n in South Dakota, who won a gold medal for the U.S. in the 10,000m at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (He remains the only athlete from North or South America who has ever won the Olympic 10,000m.) I was 16, participat­ing in the 1993 North American Indigenous Games in Prince Albert, Sask., representi­ng my Blackfoot people. Heck, I had watched

Running Brave, the Canadian film from 1983 depicting his story, so many times, I could recite it word for word ( which was very annoying for the people who watched it with me). Twenty years after Billy’s incredible run, he was still a hero to Indigenous youth—especially those of us who dreamed of athletic excellence.

In 2017, we were driving to Sacramento, where my wife, Celeste, would run the California Internatio­nal Marathon. At the time, I was one of the coaches for Team Saskatchew­an, and my daughter Jaira would go on to win five gold medals at the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto.* I was so proud to have been an athlete, a coach and now a parent, and to see my daughter stand on that podium. (In 2023, the next North American Indigenous Games will be held in Halifax, and I have three sons who look forward to competing there.)

During the drive, my wife said, “Doesn’t Bi l ly Mil l s live i n Sacra mento?” I was sudden ly f i l led with excitement, a nd hopeful that I would meet him. She reached out to him, sending him a link to the

Canadian Running article we were featured in. I didn’t think he would read the message, let a lone reply, but he did, and he invited us to his home.

On the day we were to meet him, it was getting dark as we drove through the unfamiliar streets and my heart was pounding; I didn’t want to get lost and be late. Finally we arrived at a black gate, and I entered the code he’d given me. The gates swung open, and we drove up to Billy Mills’s beautiful home and rang the doorbell.

His wife, Patricia, welcomed us in as my hero emerged from the living room. As we sat together, I was finally able to say all the things I had wanted to say that day on the podium, 24 years ago, and ask all the questions I had wanted to ask. He then led me upstairs to what he called his “cabinets of curiosity.” There were his Team usa Olympic race singlet, number 722, his race spikes and his Olympic gold medal, which he picked up. Turning toward me, he said, “Tarrant, we are the same; Creator has just given us different paths.” He then placed his gold medal around my neck, and I wore it for a few minutes, savouring every second.

At dinner that evening, Mills said to me, “Your life is a gift from the Creator. Your gift back to the Creator is what you do with your life.” I have never forgotten it.

I wasn’t on any kind of podium, but it was a feeling that outweighed any award I have ever received, and the teachings, conversati­ons and friendship he gave me are a treasured gift. *The Truth and Reconcilia­tion Call to Action # 88 calls upon all levels of government to take action to ensure long-term aboriginal athlete developmen­t and growth and continued support for the North American Indigenous Games, including funding to host the games and for provincial and territoria­l team preparatio­n and travel.

Tarrant Cross Child is Niitsitapi from Kainai in southern Alberta, and now lives in Saskatoon. He won the Saskatchew­an Marathon in 1998. In 2016, he founded what is now Prairie Run Crew as a way to share his passion for running with inner-city youth and remote communitie­s.

 ?? ?? Tarrant Cross Child meets his idol, Billy Mills
Tarrant Cross Child meets his idol, Billy Mills

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