- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 29, 2005

Until a couple of years ago, the likelihood of finding Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and 1964 Olympic 10,000-meter gold medalist Billy Mills in the same sentence was slim to none. But read on.

At that time, Huckabee was a 280-pound couch potato, a victim of his own poor eating habits and lack of exercise. He had just been diagnosed with Type II diabetes and warned by his physician that he would die within 10 years if he did not radically change his lifestyle.

“When the doctor sat me down in the office and said you’re digging your own grave with a knife and fork, that you’d be dead in the next 10 years,” that was the defining moment in his life,” Huckabee said. “I looked at my lifestyle. I was not exercising, I was not getting good nutrition and I realized this was not a movie I wanted to be cast for. I have lost weight throughout my life. Now, I needed to focus on being healthy. That will cause you to lose weight.”

In spring 2002, Huckabee had a heart-to-heart with himself. “It was almost a year later that I tracked on,” he said. “I had a number of false-starts. Always the same problem: I’d do it for a few weeks, and then I would get conflicted internally and start eating poorly again. But I knew what I needed to do. That is when I realized how I was conditioned. I started understanding for the first time in my life about real nutrition, about how your body processes food.”

Fast forward to the present and Huckabee, the lifelong self-described couch potato, is a 170-pound marathoner, having completed the Little Rock Marathon earlier this year in his home state in four hours, 38 minutes, 59 seconds.

For his life-altering experience, Huckabee will be keynote speaker at the third annual American Running Honors Gala sponsored by the American Running Association (ARA). The event is scheduled for June8 at the District’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel, beginning at 6:30p.m.

The mission of the evening will be to celebrate the achievements of America’s leading public officials in the attempt to improve youth fitness and stamp out youth obesity. Along with Huckabee and Mills, Pro Football Hall of Famer and National Youth Fitness leader Lynn Swann will be honored.

“We’re calling it ‘Inspirations to Youth Fitness,’ role models through their own actions who can inspire fitness in American youth,” said ARA executive director Dave Watt. “What we’re saying is that these people changed, so you can, too.”

Discount tickets for the event are available by calling 800/776-2732.

“If somebody told me two years ago that I’d be talking to a group about running, I would have said they were crazy,” said Huckabee, now 49 and author of a new book called “Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork.”

“I used to think runners and running was foolish. Where are they running to? Who are they running from?”

Now the governor is hooked. But he started out slowly, not having run a step since eighth-grade PE class.

“The doctor suggested I run a 5K,” he said. “There was a race on July Fourth. I’d never been to a race in my life. I didn’t know how to pin on the numbers. I was more nervous than on my election night. I ran 28:14, but I did it. The photos were good ? showed me still having kick at the end.”

A week later, a local television reporter and 2:45 marathoner suggested the governor run the Little Rock Marathon.

“I had had three knee surgeries and the flattest feet my doctor had ever seen,” said Huckabee, who at first was shocked by the idea. “A week later, marathon people showed up in my office asking me to promote the race. They were saying that older people than me train and run it. That got to me.”

He was so committed to training that he managed to squeeze in a workout during a busy Inauguration Day here in January.

“My wife and I were invited to view the parade from the president’s box,” Huckabee said. “I left my wife in the president’s box watching the parade while I was back at the hotel running five miles on the treadmill while watching the parade on TV.”

In the end, he said, “the day of my marathon was one of the most exhilarating days in my life.”

The most exhilarating day in Billy Mills’ life was Oct.14, 1964, when the darkest of dark horses outsprinted heavy favorites Ron Clarke of Australia and Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia in the Olympic 10,000 meters in Tokyo. His 28:24.4 was a personal best by 46 seconds, an Olympic record and one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history.

Mills’ career would have been even more decorated had he not been suffering from hypoglycemia, which made for erratic performances.

“During my athletic career, during the late ‘50s and ‘60s, I could be world class and have an amazing performance and two weeks later just struggle to finish,” said Mills, 66, who is part Oglala Sioux. “Many people explained it by saying, ‘You are a minority, an orphan from poverty [so] you have low self-esteem.’ And I knew I didn’t have low self-esteem. I realized after my career that I was hypoglycemic.”

Mills recently was diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

“I had to take control of my diabetes, empower myself, then take the journey and help others,” said Mills, who has spent decades spanning the globe and raising funds to tackle two highly prevalent challenges in the Indian community ? alcoholism and diabetes.

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