Twenty-five years ago, Billy Mills, riding a bus to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, was asked by a passenger who he thought would win the 10,000-meter run.
"Do you think it will be the Czech or someone else?" she inquired of the unknown competitor.Barely whispering, Mills replied, "I think I am going to win."
Win he did - both in athletics and in life.
A more confident Mills was eager Saturday to share his winning formula with the more than 8,000 youths who gathered in the Salt Palace for day two of the Utah Federation for a Drug-Free Youth conference.
Youths from around the state packed the palace's Assembly Hall to hear the once-poverty-stricken Lakota Indian, orphaned at age 15, tell how he went from a South Dakota reservation to capture the 1964 Olympic Gold Medal.
From there, he went on to business prominence, gaining membership in the Million Dollar Roundtable his first year as an insurance salesman.
Saturday, the 50-year-old entrepreneur spoke candidly about the "tough" years - growing up without parents and with 12 other brothers and sisters in an environment where alcohol and drugs were abused.
Neither his mother nor father (who died when Mills was 12 and 15, respectively) were users. Nevertheless, Mills said he faced a lot of social complexities growing up on the reservation.
Since then he has dedicated his life to helping others - especially American Indian youth - facing similar complexities.
In addition to his profitable insurance agency, Mills runs a second business, "Running Strong for American Indian Youth." It's a fund-raising company, which last year raised $1.6 million for poverty pockets of America, primarily on Indian reservations.
Immortalized in the motion picture, "Running Brave," Mills also is writing a book and traveling the lecture circuit, which brought him to Utah Saturday.
"After the Olympic Games, the elders back home said, `Billy, although you are of mixed blood (half Indian and half white), you had a lot of people help you,' " he said. "Culturally speaking, you have to give thanks to those people who helped you. You have to give a gift."
Mills said he decided to give an "attitude" - the same attitude he presented at the Saturday conference.
"People need a positive philosophy and a support system," he said in an interview following his presentation. "They allow you to put yourself into a positive risk situation."
Mills said when you put yourself into that situation, several things immediately become apparent.
"One is either you have to accept defeat or accept failure. But they are different," he explained. "Defeat is a learning process. You can accept defeat with dignity. But you need not accept failure."
In accepting defeat, he advised, "step back, analyze, adjust, reinforce the support system and go forward - not in the same direction, but to a higher plateau."
Then, he said, something will happen.
"The spirit does not allow the body or the mind to quit because the philosophy and support system teach you to focus," he said. "When you focus, the dreams we have locked up - that we may to be embarrassed or too shy to vocalize - will come flooding out.
"When you pursue those dreams with focus, one or two of them will turn into a vision that is alive, has a pulse and a heartbeat," he said. "If you pursue the vision, you can either accomplish the dream, the goal, or you are better prepared to cope with reality."