How running changes lives

Billy Mills awarding Wings Program Coordinator Alicia Littlebear after the Billy Mills 10K Gold Run at the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in 2015. (Wings photo)

This transformation of a runner is explored in the new film, 3100: Run & Become

Billy Mills

When I first began to train for the Olympics, I visualized winning daily and did so much that I could actually see it. Using this method to win the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympics forever changed me.

For anyone who runs long distance, well, for all runners, transformation can be seen immediately. But for most, transformation happens over time. Not only are physical benefits seen, but mental, emotional and some would say spiritual changes occur when pushing your body to move beyond what you think you can do.

This transformation is explored in the new film, 3100: Run & Become. The documentary tells the stories of ultra runners, those who run more than the customary marathon distance, 26.2 miles, in various cultures. The main character is a Finnish paper boy trying to beat his best time in the Self-Transcendence 3100, a 3,100-mile, 52-day run around a half-mile loop in New York City. The film also features a Buddhist Monk on a 1,000-day prayer circuit, African Bushmen fighting to retain traditional hunting methods, and Diné ultra runner Shaun Martin.

In the film, Martin retraces the steps his father took as a small boy when he ran away from boarding school back to his family’s homestead over 100 miles away. This revelatory journey helps Shaun understand where the resilience of his family first took form. It was through running that his father asked for guidance and strength from the Holy People to contend with an institutionalized system attempting to suppress Navajo culture.

Dustin Martin, Wings Executive Director, Billy Mills, and former Wings facilitator Vernard Martinez at a run on the Rosebud Reservation in 2014. Dustin Martin, Wings Executive Director, Billy Mills, and former Wings facilitator Vernard Martinez at a run on the Rosebud Reservation in 2014. (Wings photo)

Several organizations in Native America use running as a tool to help young people set goals and find a sense of belonging in two worlds. Wings of America, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is one that helps youth tap into a meaningful tradition that can lead them to other interests, goals and eventually, careers. Since 1988, at least 50,000 students have participated in Wings programs. Today, many of them work in health care, education, engineering, among so many other professions.

Wings, an associate producer of 3100, however, can only do so much until we have tribes and tribal enterprises make similar investments. I look forward to the day that our tribal leadership honors the potential of young runners with the resources they need. Not just to foster the next Olympian, but to empower young people of all talent levels and help them discover their passions to fulfill their dreams.

Whether you’re a runner or someone looking to transform your life, inspiration can be found if you have the courage to look within. A film like 3100: Run and Becomeis the perfect starting point for anyone lacking direction. I’m thankful for organizations like Wings of America that push Native youth to the next level by creating community, goals and inspiration to help their passions flourish.

Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota, is the 1964 Olympic gold medalist in the 10,000-meter and an emeritus member of the Wings of America Board of Directors.

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