For most elite athletes, training to be the best at their sport is enough. Then there’s Greek-American runner Alexi Pappas, who made a feature-length film while preparing to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Called Tracktown, it was released a little over two months before she lined up at the start of the 10,000 meters in Rio and tells the story of a hyper-focused runner who is sidelined by an injury while preparing for the Olympic trials. Pappas wrote and directed the movie with her fiancé, Jeremy Teicher, and played the lead character, Plumb Marigold. Most recently, she produced a series of fictional-ish short films as an artist-in-residence at the Pyeongchang winter games.
On a recent episode of the Outside Podcast, correspondent Stephanie May Joyce spoke with Pappas about her many interests, her athletic drive, and her support systems. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Alexi Pappas Dreams Like a Crazy and Runs Like One, Too
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OUTSIDE: Your dad introduced you to running and brought you to the 1996 Olympics, in Atlanta. Do you remember much of that?
ALEXI PAPPAS: I remember crowds, and I remember being in awe of Olympians, and feeling like that is a really worthy goal. And I watched a man run the marathon who would later become my college coach, Mark Coogan. It's so cool to know now I was there as a six-year-old watching someone who one day give you the confidence to get there yourself.
To go to the place where the best athletes were gathering expanded my ceiling for what existed in the world. I love window shopping for that sake—I like seeing what exists. And the Olympics are just the pinnacle of athletic achievement. Once you see it in real life, you're like, “This is a thing I can touch.”
You ran cross-country at Dartmouth. Did you imagine you’d be a professional athlete back then?
I knew that I had a competitive—not even just an itch, but I knew inside of me was a mind of a champion. I just was not physically there yet, and that was tough because I was the worst on the team and the worst in the league and not good enough for the travel squad. My dad just was like, “Keep showing up every day,” and I was like, “Okay.” That's kind of how he's always been, and not in a bad way, in a really good way.
After you graduated, how did you support yourself while paying off student loan debts and chasing your Olympic ambitions?
There's that sense of like, I'm betting on myself, and my body, and my potential. I was always making sure that I was being financially responsible. I made sure I could support this dream. I had local food sponsors for a while. I had a beef sponsor with the local butcher shop, fish sponsor with the local fish shop, a veggie sponsor with this farm, a coffee sponsor, a bread sponsor. Did I name them all?
That sounds very Eugene.
Yeah, it's very Eugene. Eugene is such a wonderful place to be because they supported my dream in that way. And I realized I don't need a sunglasses sponsorship at this point—I can't eat sunglasses. You know what it was? I really knew my goal. My goal was to train for the Olympics, and I wrote down, with thought, what I needed to get there. And it wasn't too much money. It was food, shoes, coaching, teammates, and good trails. Eugene provided all of that.
In Tracktown, Plumb’s dad is obviously proud of her running accomplishments, but she also accuses him of living his life through hers. Is there an element of that to your relationship with your dad in real life?
I think it's a bigger deal for Plumb because she has been so laser-focused. However, they are both the proudest, most supportive dads. I think as a teenager we have to somehow figure out how to not mistake our parents’ pride for pressure, and to know that they'd probably be proud of us if we were pursuing something else. My dad just wanted me to stay busy—I think that was the most important thing to him.
When did you first become interested in theater and performance?
Always. Always, always, always. I think running is a performance, so I'm always performing. When I was little, I did a lot of theater, and I've always loved it. I think my mom liked to do those sorts of things too. It was a gift to be alongside Rachel [Dratch] and Andy [Buckley] and everybody else in Tracktown. Those are certainly people I admire and look up to. Just like when you're running next to someone you admire you are elevated by them—as long as you feel like they want you to be there. I felt that you can grow from being around people who are at the top of their game. I just think it's very inefficient to not be extremely brave and push on yourself in these opportunity moments.
What was it like to run for the Greek national team in Rio?
Oh man, Rio was awesome. I was peaking physically, so I was ready to run well. I felt like my body was in line with my mind, which is so special. It was so fun to be among the best and feel like I truly belonged there. My coach prepared me by saying, “You know what, you're probably going to get lapped.” I think everyone but three people got lapped in that race because it was a world record-breaking 10K. But he said, “You can also run out of your mind—a personal best, a national record, even if you get lapped.”
So it didn't so much feel like me against her against her against her. It was like, all of us charged, and it was really beautiful.
Listen to our conversation with Alexi Pappas on the Outside Podcast.