To be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire is an all-to-familiar mantra that many people aim to live by. Although this way of thinking is easier said than done, it proves to be made possible through the likes of inspiring and praiseworthy individuals, such as Alexi Pappas. The Olympic Track and Field star, actor, director, and now, author, is a prime example of fulfilling the previously slated motto, as she states, “...Chasing a goal you might not get is one of the bravest things a person can do, and it all starts with flipping a switch in your mind by replacing can’t with maybe.” Through perseverance and diligence, Alexi is a multi-talented force to be reckoned with, as she has taken her experiences from the Olympic podium and has strategically presented her knowledgeable ideals into her newest book, Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas. In this exclusive interview, we had the opportunity to chat with Alexi regarding the release of her memoir-in-essays, her experience filming Olympic Dreams, and her thoughts on the importance of being a female role model.
Megan Morgante: You competed in the Rio Olympics for Track and Field in 2016, setting a national record in the 10K with a time of 31:36. Absolutely amazing! How were you initially introduced to the sport?
Alexi Pappas: I'll pull my answer from the opening line of my book, Bravey, “My earliest memory of running was in the first grade when a boy in my class made fun of my best friend, and I not only chased him down but caught him and stabbed him with a pencil to make sure he knew I wasn’t f*cking around.” My career as an Olympian really did begin on the playground, and it was never a straightforward path! The first race of my life was a 5K when I was eight-years-old, when my dad ran his first (and only) marathon. There was a fun 5K the day before his race and my brother ran (and walked) the whole thing with me; I remember the 5K felt so long!
MM: What was your initial thought process when Tokyo 2020 was postponed due to the pandemic? Have your training plans shifted for the upcoming Olympics?
AP: I have always believed that it's important to control what I can control so that I have willpower left over to embrace the unknown. During this time, I am trying my best to maintain some semblance of a training routine as much as possible while still accepting that I cannot control what is going to happen with the Olympics and with the pandemic. I am also working on my weaknesses during this time when there aren't races, which has been very fun!
MM: Along with being an Olympian, you’re a multi-faceted actor, writer, and director. Can you give an overview of your background involving the creative arts and where your drive/passion stems from?
AP: I began my artistic career through poetry; in college, I actually wrote a book of poems as my English honors thesis! While poetry taught me how to be thoughtful and economic with my words, I was drawn to the team atmosphere of filmmaking. Maybe it's the athlete in me, but when I am in a situation where a group of people are all working towards a shared goal, I thrive most. Filmmaking is a communal medium, and acting can only really be done with other people.
MM: Your memoir-in-essays, Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas, with a foreword by Maya Rudolph, is set to release in early January 2021… Congratulations! Can you give some insight into where you drew inspiration from while writing your latest masterpiece and who it’s targeted towards?
AP: Bravey is the culmination of all the hard-earned lessons I've learned as an Olympian, filmmaker, and as a child of suicide. After I lost my mother, I had to develop tools to survive and thrive, emotionally and otherwise. I learned how to seek out mentors, how to grow my confidence like a muscle, how to embrace pain, and many other things (which are all in the book!). Bravey is for anyone willing to chase a dream, no matter what that dream looks like.
MM: What do hope your readers will take away with them after reading, Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas?
AP: My dream would be for readers to finish Bravey feeling empowered to replace ‘can't’ with ‘maybe.’ Chasing a goal you might not get is one of the bravest things a person can do, and it all starts with flipping a switch in your mind. I also hope it helps give people a different vocabulary to think about mental health, which is a big topic in the book.
MM: You also starred in the feature film, Olympic Dreams, released by IFC in February of 2020. What was your experience like filming this project and having the opportunity to shed some light on the world of an Olympian?
AP: Olympic Dreams is a movie I made with Nick Kroll and Jeremy Teicher, which we shot inside the actual Olympic Village at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. What was so incredible having access like that, which is completely unprecedented, is that I got to open a window into a world that most people never get to see. That's the same energy I brought to Bravey, as well: I want to open a window and let people in.
MM: If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
AP: I would tell myself to remember to be as kind to myself as I am hard on myself. It's easy for us to only focus on what we want to improve and what we want to do better next time. It's also important to relish what did go well, too.
MM: Have you ever experienced any notable challenges throughout your career as an athlete or a creative?
AP: As an answer to this question, I'll direct you to an op-doc video piece I made with the New York Times -- to give the most truthful response to this question, it's helpful to learn the full story: https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000007372207/alexi-pappas-depression.html
MM: Do you feel you have a social responsibility with your growing platform?
AP: Yes! As a kid, I was desperate for female role models. I know that if I was growing up today, I'd be absorbing and imitating every word from my favorite role models on social media. I am aware that there are likely little girls out there just like me who look to my social media presence as an example, and I try to create a platform that I would have liked for my younger self to encounter.
MM: Who is Alexi Pappas, to you?
AP: Alexi Pappas is a Bravey to the core: she sleeps like a baby, dreams like crazy, and replaces ‘can't’ with ‘maybe!’
Photography by: Joanne Forsynth