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Fifty-seven years ago in Tokyo, Billy Mills (Oglala Lakota) stunned the world by winning the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000-meter race. He was a relative unknown in the sport, the first (and still only) American ever to win the event, the second Native American athlete ever to win track and field gold (after Jim Thorpe). It is still considered one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history.
Today, the day of the same event in the same city at this year’s Olympic games, I could not be more honored and pleased to announce Billy’s children’s book debut is on the way.
Billy overcame a lot to reach that podium: Poverty. Being orphaned at age 12. Racism. Depression. Hypoglycemia that went undiagnosed until a year before the Tokyo games. He was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps at the time. He is an inspiration—although he prefers to empower rather than inspire, and has traveled the world doing empowering speaking engagements for much of his life. In 2012, he received the Presidential Citizens Medal from Barack Obama in part for his work with Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization he helped to found. (You can learn more about the organization here—and watch the short, grainy video of the last lap of Billy's medal-winning race, with the announcers going wild.) Billy is so much more than an Olympic gold medalist; he embodies the Lakota tradition of the giveaway, in which someone who achieves great success gives back to the communities that support them.
When my client Donna Janell Bowman approached Billy about collaborating on a picture book autobiography, long conversations and deep connection resulted—as well as an absolutely gorgeous text. I am so moved by Billy entrusting me with representing him for this project. He and his wife Pat are as warm, generous, and open-hearted as you might imagine.
This book, WINGS OF AN EAGLE: THE GOLD MEDAL DREAMS OF BILLY MILLS, has unfolded as though it had wings of its own. There was a lot of interest among publishers, but Andrea Spooner of Little, Brown had such passion and vision, and such wholehearted support from her team, that when she swept in with a preempt offer, it was clear it was meant to find a home with her—at the place that is also happens to be the publishing home of Billy and Pat’s “adopted son," Nicholas Sparks. Soon Andrea had the perfect illustrator on board—the illustrator Donna had envisioned from the start, S.D. Nelson (Standing Rock Sioux)—and now we’re well on our way to the summer 2024 publication, just in time for the next summer Olympics.
Billy’s organization, Running Strong, works with communities to create healthier, happier, and more hopeful futures for Native American youth. We cannot wait to put this book in the hands of those youth, and to have today’s children from all over the world be newly empowered by Billy Mills and his story.
So many congratulations to Billy and Donna!