I stumbled upon the work of artist and Olympian Alexi Pappas in a somewhat unexpected way. On another night of requisite scrolling, I saw Pappas featured on the carpets at SXSW wearing Susan Alexandra’s playful designs. Full disclosure: I hadn’t heard of Alexi yet, but I caught a glimpse of her Greek last name and my curiosity was piqued. This led to a delightful trip down the rabbit hole of Alexi’s work. Her Instagram feed (I admit Instagram happens to be the undeniably millennial way I discover many artists, people I admire, and even some I’ve formed friendships and collaborations with) is a beautiful stream of wry, inspiring content. Alexi’s words resonated with me more than anything I’d read in a very long time, though admittedly the sheer amount of content in our clogged up digital space can tempt you to write things off or simply forget them, unintentionally. As a runner, much of her content is geared towards athletes, but I was struck by something more nuanced. Sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, sometimes flexing as one literally and metaphorically should when they’re a Champion-sponsored Olympic athlete, her poetic takes jolted me out of my jadedness. She creates content that I wish existed in my pre-Instagram, high school years when as a dancer and neurotic student I could have used a relatable role model. P.S. she has dope style. P.P.S. she does amazing work advocating for and inspiring women.
If you’re unfamiliar, Alexi Pappas is a Greek American writer, producer, and athlete. Born in California, she became a Greek citizen and competed for Greece in the 2016 Olympics, where she also set a national record. She disrupts the stigma that one must be one thing in order to do it well: generalists everywhere, unite! She graduated with honors from Dartmouth (cue “Who Run the World, Girls”) with a degree in English and creative writing, and has acted alongside the likes of Nick Kroll. She writes, acts, and produces, and her film writing credits include “Olympic Dreams,” which premiered at SXSW in March 2019. Her recent creative output showcases how her athletic endeavors seamlessly flow into work as a storyteller. She’s also working on a book slated for release in 2020, but more on that below…
Read on for our interview with Alexi for her take on why you might want to schedule your next nap, how she inspires young women in their athletic endeavors, and why Olympians can, and maybe should, enjoy fresh Greek cheese.
Tell us a bit about your upbringing in regards to growing up Greek American. You became a Greek citizen a few years ago and represented Greece in the Olympics (and went on to set some badass records), how did that feel? Why run for Greece versus the US?
My Greek identity was always a big part of my life growing up, especially spending summer with my YiaYia and Papou and traveling to Greece with my entire family. When I was training for the 2016 Olympics, I wanted to make sure that my running could have the biggest impact possible. I love pushing myself in athletics to see how fast I can go, but most of all I get joy from inspiring younger athletes. I felt that, especially as a female athlete, I would have the most impact in Greece. I remember at my training camp in Karpenisi, I met a group of young teenage girls who did not ever think that girls could become pro athletes — they didn’t think sports were for girls. When I set my new national records, I thought of them.
Many know you as an Olympian, but you also do a lot of philanthropic work and creative work. Let’s talk more about your career as a creative and storyteller. Tell us about your foray into filmmaking. Had you wanted to make films from a young age?
Writing and storytelling have always been passions of mine. I studied writing at University and completed a thesis in poetry with high honors. But I understood that I had a limited window of time in which to pursue my athletic dreams. However, it has been an incredible turn of events to see that my running career has actually opened so many opportunities for me to pursue my writing and filmmaking endeavors. I especially love that I am able to express my love for running through my writing.
Can you speak a bit to how you balance your career? I.e. the creative work: writing, collaborations with brands, etc. with athletics/training. It seems as though the two are inextricably intertwined…
I have found that my athletics has supported my creative work and vice versa. You can’t run 24 hours a day — and I find that having a creative project to work on helps me focus even more on my training.
On social, you share a lot of motivational bits – but they don’t feel fluffy. Have you faced any particular struggles in your journey that you feel especially passionate about and/or that you feel like you want to help others overcome?
I am always trying to communicate to runners, especially young runners in high school and university, to be as kind to themselves as they are hard on themselves. This means to always remember that recovery is just as important as training, to eat what your body is craving, and to get lots of sleep!
How do you stay balanced and keep up your personal wellness with such a busy schedule, competing and training, and all that is being a human in the digital age? Any tips (but really…)
Here’s my best tip: I take a nap every day, and I call my naps “practice.” It makes it much easier to prioritize my recovery, which is often the easiest part of our day to sacrifice. I think this can apply to normal life outside of elite athletics: take your rest time seriously!
I am always trying to communicate to runners, especially young runners in high school and university, to be as kind to themselves as they are hard on themselves.
In Karpenisi, at training camp before the 2016 Olympics, we ate these wonderful home-cooked meals that many athletes (many of whom I met in the USA) may not consider to be “athlete food” — whole fish, cheeses, fatty meat, and lots of olive oil. It was the best food I’ve ever had. These hearty meals fueled me and helped my body recover. Ever since then, I have been proud to eat filling meals — but I am also always careful to make sure I am to use the absolute best seasonal ingredients, and to buy them from local farmers if possible.
You’re currently working on a book, so exciting! Can you tell us a bit about that (if you’re allowed to at this point?)
Yes! My book is called Bravey and it will be released in the late summer of 2020. The book is a memoir-in-essays about my development as an athlete and artist, and about the unique outlook on life that I developed after my mother died by suicide when I was young.
Keep an eye for Alexi’s upcoming book, Bravey, for a candid, insightful peep into life through her technicolor lens. A side note from the author: if you are someone you love is suicidal, my inbox is open. I’ve also dealt with this in my family several times over and am happy to point you to resources.
If you enjoyed our interview with Alexi Pappas, be sure to follow her on Instagram @alexipappas for an update on her work – and a dose of inspiration.
If you’re interested in all things related to Greeks in wellness, give Yia Mas a follow, as well!