Billy Mills is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Mills attended Haskell Indian Nations University and the University of Kansas. He attended KU on an athletic scholarship and was a three-time NCAA All-American cross-country runner. During the 1964 Summer Olympics, Mills won an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meters, and he remains the only American to ever win the event. Mills' win in the 10,000 meters is considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.
Mills is a co-founder and national spokesperson of Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization that aims to help American Indian people meet their immediate survival needs while creating opportunities for self-sufficiency and self-esteem in American Indian youths. In 2014, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his gold medal, Mills started Dreamstarter, a grant program to jump-start the dreams of American Indian youths.
Mills is the recipient of many distinguished athletic and humanitarian awards, including the 2015 President's Council Lifetime Achievement Award, NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award and 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal. He has been inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame, the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame and the United States Track & Field Hall of Fame.