Road to Tokyo: Troubles away from the track
As we prepare for next year’s Olympic Games and Billy Mills' return to Tokyo, where it all began, we are excited to introduce a new series, Road to Tokyo. Each month until the Games begin, Billy will share never-before-heard stories from his time at and leading up to the Olympics in 1964.
Settling in at Quantico
It’s the middle of September 1963. My week is full of deadlines and there's a very important doctors appointment I have to keep. I am anxiously waiting for the changing colors of foliage that the fall season consistently brings. At this point in my life, I need consistency.
So far, it has been a very promising year, but not without its challenges. In January 1963, I had been a 2nd Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps for a mere 10 days. I felt so humbled and proud. Patricia and I were on a waitlist for officers housing. In the meantime, we were renting a small apartment in downtown Quantico, Virginia. We felt safe and Patricia could walk to work. She had applied for a job as a secretary for the president of a bank. She wore a “new, colorful, fashionable” lightweight jacket over her most business-looking outfit to the interview. She looked adorable.
Patricia was nervous, but the interview went well. She was hired on the spot. The president introduced her to the other employees. He was both professional and very pleased. All the employees welcomed her.
Two weeks later, on Patricia’s first day at work, she showed up in another “new, colorful, fashionable outfit.” A MATERNITY OUTFIT!
No words could describe the bank president’s facial expression. Was it hostility or anger? To say he wasn’t pleased was an understatement. As little Christy grew in the safety of her mommy’s tummy, Patricia’s desk was moved closer and closer to the coffee and printing machines! But, even so, she remained the bank president's secretary.
Finding a New Home
A few days after the “fashionable maternity outfit” incident, I was leaving our Quantico apartment at 6:00 AM to go to my Basic School classes. As I opened our door, I stepped into a pool of fresh blood dripping from the outside doorknob.
Blood was also smeared on the door. Someone had tried to break in. With one look at Patricia, the expression on her face and the way she placed her hands over her tummy expressed the deep concern she (and I) had for our child. Immediately, I knew we would be moving and SOON. I made a phone call. It wasn’t long and we were in the officer’s housing. Many of the other officers were newlywed and starting their own families. We made lifetime friends. Seven weeks later, on November 10, 1963, Patricia and I would be attending our first Marine Corps Birthday Ball. Semper Fidelis, Marines!
I had completed the six months of Basic School training and I still found time to continue nurturing my Olympic Dream. I was now waiting to see when I would start my Military Occupational Specialty Training. Hopefully, it could be delayed because based on my performance at the World Military Track & Field Championships (CISM), my chances of being transferred to Camp Pendleton, California to join the All-Marine Corps team to train for the Olympic Games were excellent!
Two Startling Diagnoses
I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment. He had the results of the exams I took to try and find out if it was a health issue that was contributing to me not being able to finish my races strong. At the same time, I wondered, "Am I just not fast enough to run with the best?"
It couldn’t be what my coaches and doctors would tell me in college, could it? “Son, you’re an orphan, minority, poor and you have low self-esteem! You just have to learn how to deal with it.”
I saw the doctor. The results were STARTLING.
I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and borderline Type Two Diabetic.
I was frightened and angry, but I felt relieved and empowered. I now knew why I always faltered at the end of my major races. If I could address this, I just might find my true potential.
The doctor continued: “There isn’t much information as to the diet you should follow. I recommend a high-protein diet with vegetables. But, Lieutenant Mills, on race day, it will be up to you to experiment as to what diet will give you the best performance.”
The timing of the medical results was perfect. I had planned to start my Olympic training schedule on September 23, 1963 - 1 year from the Olympics.
"How does an emerging elite athlete handle being diagnosed with hypoglycemia and pre-type 2 diabetes when the medical profession at the time knows so little about it," I asked myself.
I increased my protein intake and bought two months’ supply of protein powder. I started training for the USA National Cross Country Championships on November 30 in Van Cortlandt Park, New York. My strength improved and I could do more quality speed workouts, as well as increase my total weekly mileage. But finding the right foods to eat before my races, and how long before my races, remained a challenge. One race, I emerged elite, the next race, I would struggle to finish. This occurred over and over, even when I ate the same pre-meet meal at the exact same time before every race.
Adapt and Overcome
I believe it was about 2 days after I started my new training program when information started coming fast. I was told I would not be transferred to Camp Pendleton, my MOS Training was delayed and I would remain at Quantico competing for their cross-country and Track & Field team. Representing Quantico was an honor, but Camp Pendleton was where those training for the Olympic Team would be!
Lost for words, I wondered, "What am I going to do?" The Corps motto is “Adapt and Overcome.” I decided my last chance was to perform well at the USA National Cross Country Championships on November 30, 1963.
My goal: be the 1st place USA runner at the Championships. The top USA runner would go on to represent the United States at a race in Sao Paulo, Brazil on December 31, 1963. Then maybe, I would be sent to Pendleton for the Track and Field season only. If all went well, I could be in Camp Pendleton on the 1st of February, 1964 and focus only on the US Olympic Trials and the Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games were only twelve months away, but my personal progress and preparation were much farther away. Believe, believe, believe!
See you in October!