Today is March 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow yourself to outgrow your shoes?” Commenting on one strategy she uses to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well, Greek-American long-distance runner Alexi Pappas said: “I have embraced my own growth every year and allowed myself to outgrow my shoes.” Alexi Pappas is an Olympic athlete, filmmaker, and award-winning writer. She was born on 28 March 1990, to a Greek-American father who has roots from Rhodes and an American mother, and grew up in Alameda, California. Her mother died by suicide when Alexi was four years old; an event that left a significant impact on Pappas.
As she noted in an interview “My mother’s suicide impacted me in two major ways. The first was that I felt I didn't matter enough for her to stay and the second was that I suddenly had this huge vacuum in the female role model department, and I needed to fill the gap of: what am I becoming and what can I look up to? I latched onto athletes, I latched onto anything to imitate and I really absorbed and ran with anything I saw that I liked, or what I didn't like I would steer away from. When somebody is looking up to me now, I'm very aware of just how much that can matter and just how much people need those mentors sometimes."
Pappas would go on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in creative writing and English from Dartmouth College in 2012. She then graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing at University of Oregon College of Arts and Sciences in 2013. Pappas has been most successful in the 10km but has also been a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) All-American at indoor 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters, and the steeplechase as well as the Ivy League champion in the steeplechase. In the 2016 Summer Olympics Women's 10km, Pappas represented Greece and set a national Greek record.
As a filmmaker, Alexi directed, cowrote and starred in Tracktown, a 2016 American drama and coming of age sports film directed and written by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher and starring Pappas, Chase Offerle, Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley. She also co-wrote and starred alongside Nick Kroll in Olympic Dreams, the first non-documentary-style movie to ever be filmed at the Olympic Games. In 2020 she published a video about her struggle with depression, calling for better care of elite athletes' mental health. She is married to her long-term partner and film-making collaborator, Jeremy Teicher.
Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Runner’s World, Women’s Running, Sports Illustrated, The Atlantic, and Outside, among other publications, and she has been profiled in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, New York, and Rolling Stone. She published her autobiography Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas in January 2021 where she fearlessly and honestly shares her battle with post-Olympic depression and describes how she emerged on the other side as a thriving and self-actualized woman.
How does one person accomplish so much across different fields of interest? Pappas relies on a strategy so many others use and that is the unfolding of life. In a January 2021 Psychology Today interview with Matt Huston entitled "Going the Distance (and Then Some)” said “I think the best choice that I’ve made is to never plan more than a year in advance for my life. I keep in mind that if I did, I would probably put more of a ceiling on myself. I have embraced my own growth every year and allowed myself to outgrow my shoes. With regard to mental health, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s impossible to know our future. It’s the ultimate sign of strength, I think, to admit that you can’t know and to allow yourself to outgrow your expectations.”
When asked “What equipped you to tackle such different pursuits as running, film making, and writing?” Pappas provided another strategy to consider for those who wish to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. “I didn’t know at the outset that I could do any of those things, but I continued to allow myself to try to grow. Some of the challenging things that I saw as a child seemed impossibly terrible. So I think I had this feeling that if the impossibly terrible things were possible, then the impossibly wonderful things were, too.”
Do you believe the impossibly wonderful things are possible?
How often do you allow yourself to outgrow your shoes?