Ragnar Spotlight Athlete: Alexi Pappas

Advocate • Olympian Actor • Writer

Let’s kick off Athletes of April with a bang! We are excited to introduce you to the incredibly inspiring and talented Alexi Pappas. She is a mental health advocate, Greek-American runner and Olympian, actor, and writer. Her career and life story have inspired runners and people alike all around the world. When we were picking our Motivational March Ragnar Rundown book of the month we knew we had to pick her book Bravey. A number of Ragnar team members read her book and we can’t stop talking about it! We then had the awesome opportunity to sit down and ask her a few questions. But first, here is why we LOVE Alexi’s book:

“Oftentimes our favorite books are those where we can relate to a character. We see ourselves woven between the lines because we can relate. Well, in this case, Alexi Pappas isn’t a character. She is a person: a real-life, vulnerable, hilarious, grounded-all-while-flying-high-in-the-sky-chasing-her-dreams type of person. Her journey will break your heart, cry happy (and sad) tears and ultimately, inspire you.

You know how you fold a corner of a page down because you like a line? Maybe you highlight it, underline it… I stopped marking pages because there wasn’t a page that didn’t speak to me. This is a book that will sit on my coffee table, come to races with me, and if you borrow my copy I’m going to want it back.

Personally, and perhaps selfishly, I wish this book existed when I was younger. When I was, at the time, unable to leap over the hurdles my own life was throwing at me. I could make this “review” about myself but that’s entirely not the point. Similar to Bravey, the book may appear to be about Alexi, when the reality is, it’s much greater than that.

You don’t have to be a runner or an athlete or a filmmaker to relate to this book. I encourage anyone who has lived through one of the weirdest timeframes of our lives to read Bravey.

You’ll feel empowered. You’ll feel seen. And at the end of it, you’ll too, be a Bravey.”

– Review written by Jen Brill, Ragnar’s very own epic Digital Media Producer.

 


Q&A with Alexi

Q: What is your “why” in running and sharing your story? What was the moment you thought, “you know what… I’m going to write a book.”?

“I actually first started working on Bravey right before the 2016 Olympics — a New York Times story had just come out about me and I began to realize that the bravey phenomenon might have resonance with a broader audience outside of social media. I believe that you can only share so much online, and sometimes, in order to share the full story, you need a more long-form platform. I personally enjoy reading memoirs of people I admire because I love to learn how they think. In telling my story through longer essays, I want to share not only my personal experiences with Olympic running, filmmaking, and mental health — I want to share the lessons I learn along the way.”

Q: What advice would you give to those who struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health injuries? 

“I dive into detail on this specific question in the book, but briefly — my biggest epiphany when I was at my lowest point struggling with post-Olympic depression was when my psychiatrist helped me see my depression as an injury, like a sprain in my brain. I realized that my brain was a body part just like any other, it can get injured like any other, and, most importantly, it can heal just like any other. Once I attacked recovering from depression like I’d attack recovering from a hamstring injury, my entire perspective shifted.”

Q: How do you choose joy and growth during challenging situations or on the extra hard days?

“For me, it’s not necessarily about choosing joy or forcing myself to be happy — we can never force ourselves to feel anything, our emotions are what they are. Instead, I try to focus on my actions. I also write about this in the ‘Depression’ chapter of the book: actions really are the only thing we can control. We take actions that we hope will lead us to joy and growth while accepting that our feelings and even our thoughts might take a little while to catch up.”

Q: What are your go-to mental health boosters? What does it mean to be healthy to you?  

“To me, being healthy — I like to use the word thriving — means feeling like my life is in balance as I chase my dreams. That doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t be thriving when I’m burning the midnight oil on a film project; it just means that I’m being mindful of my overall balance. When I start to feel overwhelmed, my biggest booster is honestly sitting down in front of my calendar and ‘taking stock’ of what I’ve committed myself to and either reminding myself that yes, everything is under control, or realizing that I need to make a few shifts and then taking decisive action.”

Q: What words of encouragement would you tell younger girls who are facing challenges? Or what do you know now that you would tell your younger self?  

“The one piece of knowledge that I really could have benefitted from, and what I’d want to make sure every young athlete (and humans in general) knows, is to remember that the brain is a body part and it’s not shameful — in fact, it’s good and high-performance — to take stock of your mental health just like you take stock of your physical health, and then GET HELP when you realize something is off.

Q: You’re an author, filmmaker, athlete… a Bravey! How do you juggle all aspects of your life?  

“There’s a chapter in Bravey, ‘Willpower,’ where I take a deep dive into this — I understand that willpower, my ability to get things done in a day, is a finite and depletable resource. I try to be as aware of my willpower as possible and be mindful as to what is using up my willpower and where I want it to be going.”

Q: Who do you look to for inspiration? Who are your role models and why? 

“Deena Kastor and Maya Rudolph because it’s not just what they’ve done, it’s how they’ve done it… the way they’re optimists and the way they share their confidence with others.”

Q: Now, we have to ask… if you were to run a Ragnar race, who would you pick to be on your team? 

“Colleen Quigley, Mary Cain, and Abbey D’Agostino!! Friends and satellite teammates!”

Q: What’s on the horizon? What’s next for the incredible Alexi Pappas?  

“Lots of exciting artistic and athletic endeavors ahead — stay tuned!”

A HUGE shout out to Alexi Pappas for being an inspiration to all of us here at Ragnar. Keep up with Alexi HERE. ♥️

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