I grew up with stories of Jim Thorpe, Billy Mills and John Barnes.
My family would talk about Indian athletes as kin.
Jim Thorpe (Wa-Tho-Huk) seemed to excel at every sport he tried: football, basketball, running and long-jump.
Thorpe won gold medals in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm for the tough pentathlon (long jump, javelin, discus, 200 meter and 1,500 meter) and the grueling decathlon events (called decathlon for the 10 events: 100 meters, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400 meters, discus, 110 meter-hurdles, pole vault, javelin throw and 1500-meters).
A member of the Sauk nation, Thorpe was considered one of the world’s greatest athletes.
My family also loved Billy Mills (Makata Taka Hela) who earned the Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meter run in 1964.
We consider Billy tyospiye: family.
We share the same ancestors in our Oglala family.
And then there’s my mother’s brother, John Barnes, who set a world record in 1952 with his Occidental College teammates Bill Ashenfelter, Reggie Pearman and Mal Whitfield in the 4 × 880 relay in London, England.
John later earned his master’s degree and taught high school in Southern California, where he coached track and field students, including Olympic high jumper Dwight Stones.
This year, Occidental inducted Uncle John into the College’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and family members gathered to hear John’s praises by fellow classmates.
His swift running impressed his Occidental coaches and mirrored the legends of Osage runners, renown for being fast and furious.
We were proud to honor John at the event, and couldn’t help but imagine our ancestors watching, close by.
See Billy Mills’ victory run at
Blog #23 for Native American Heritage Month