When Alexi Pappas Comes to Town, You Run With Her. Obviously

Alexi Pappas wears many hats. She’s an Olympic runner, a filmmaker and actress whose second movie (“Olympic Dreams,” shot during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea) premiered at the 2019 South by Southwest festival and opens tomorrow at the IFC Center in Manhattan, and memoirist with a collection of essays called “Bravey” dropping this fall. More than 59,000 people follow her on Instagram, where her captions usually begin with poems she wrote, and her photos often feature her adorable pug, Bernini.

But she went hatless early Wednesday morning at the NYRR RUNCENTER, where she led a group of about 25 runners through Central Park and spoke of her love for urban running. Pappas, who lives in Los Angeles, was joined at the event by her friend Mary Cain, pictured at left below with Pappas, who lives in New York. “Those are maybe surprising places for people who are chasing their Olympic dreams,” Pappas said, “but what everyone else doesn’t realize is that we get to be fueled by not just the energy of a running community but also the energy of a bigger community and being in these cities is actually a positive feedback loop for our running journeys.”

She praised NYRR for instilling a sense of community among runners here. “It’s an institution that brings runners together,” she said.

Pappas, 29, competed in the 10,000m for Greece in the 2016 Olympics and hopes to run the marathon this summer in Tokyo. Thus, she said, she had to turn to the Winter Olympics for inspiration for her second film. “Olympic Dreams” was filmed on location at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea—the first movie ever to be filmed in an Olympic Village during an ongoing Games. “The only way to make an Olympic film when you’re a currently training athlete is to go when I’m not competing myself!” she said.


During Pappas’ stay in the Olympic Village in Rio, she was asked out by a volunteer doctor. That experience inspired the plot of “Olympic Dreams,” in which Penelope, a cross-country skier staying in the Olympic Village after her final competition, meets Ezra, a volunteer dentist, played by Nick Kroll (pictured below with Pappas in a still from the film). Romance ensues, but so do many questions about what comes next once you have achieved your biggest goals. Pappas said she found many similarities between distance running and cross-country skiing as she explored ski culture , but credits a body double—Annie Hart, a 2018 Olympian—for the racing scenes.

“I have memories of spending days in the Olympic Village after my race wondering what my purpose was now that I had competed,” Pappas said. She knew she wanted to translate that experience into film. “I absolutely follow the advice of ‘write what you know,’” she said. “Athletics and the arts are very intertwined for me.”

Her first movie, “Tracktown,” was about a runner. The film was released in 2016 and followed an Olympic hopeful on her journey to the Games. “’Tracktown’ was about the feeling of trying your absolute best for a goal that you aren't sure you'll ever achieve,” she said. “’Olympic Dreams’ is about the moment after.”

Pappas makes it sound easy to change hats, but one look at the poem that inspired the title of “Bravey” reveals both the effort involved and the payoff for giving her all. The poem reads, “run like a bravey/sleep like a baby/dream like a crazy/replace can't with maybe.” Pappas lost her mother to suicide as a child, and spent her young life seeking female role models even as she became one herself. She describes both her own Olympic dream and her success as a filmmaker and writer as the result of conscious decisions —“a switch you can flip in your mind,” she said—to chase those goals, and to focus on possibilities instead of limitations.

If you are inspired to see "Olympic Dreams," New York runners can use the discount code OLYMPICNYRR for any showtime for OLYMPIC DREAMS at the IFC Center, starting on February 14th. It only works for 2 tickets at a time.


Author: Lela Moore

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