HORTON, Kan. (WIBW) _ An exercise area on the Kickapoo reservation will bear the name of an Olympic champion.
Billy Mills was in Horton Monday to break ground on the tribe's new cross country park. It's an honor Mills hopes brings Native American people their most important victory ever.
As just the second Native American to win an Olympic gold medal, Mills drew quite a crowd during his visit. Leah Murata, a distance runner at Horton High School who'll run for Haskell Indian Nations University this fall, calls Mills one of her inspirations. She says he made her the person she is, sparking her love for distance running.
Mills ran for what was then Haskell High School and later KU. His 10,000 meter victory at the 1964 Olympics is still considered one of the greatest upsets in history.
"I remember crossing the finishing line and thinking that this moment was a gift and I had to give back," Mills said. "I choreographed my life knowing I had to give back."
That desire is what brought Mills to the Kickapoo reservation one day after his 75th birthday. The tribe is creating the Billy Mills Cross Country Park.
Kickapoo Chairman Steve Cadue called it one of the most exciting days of his leadership because of the purpose behind the park, which is to fight and conquer diabetes. He says it is a huge issue facing Native Americans.
"It's epidemic," Cadue said. "It's catastrophic."
Mills says it's a purpose he's all to willing to join.
"We have some great entrepreneurs and they're finding success at pursuing their dreams, but we're losing our people to diabetes and suicide," Mills said.
The park, to be built southeast of the Golden Eagle Casino, will host running events and be open to anyone who wants to exercise and take the first step toward a healthier lifestyle. Mills, who himself is Type 2 diabetic and hypoglycemic, says it's a visionary approach by Cadue. He says it's about changing perceptions and making people believe they can take control and can make lifestyle changes.
If they succeed, the men say, the victory will be greater than any gold medal.
"It's all for the children and the future," Cadue said, "the generations to come."
The park also will include a nature and heritage center. The goal is to host its first event this time next year.