Alexi Pappas, Olympian, Actress, Mental Health Advocate and Author of “Bravey”

More Than Running

January 13, 2021

This week’s guest embodies the spirit of being more than running. Alexi Pappas is a fellow Dartmouth alumnus. In addition to her success as a distance runner at Dartmouth and Oregon, she went on to compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and she’s a talented writer, poet, filmmaker, Instagram celeb and actor. Alexi’s first book of essays “BRAVEY” was just released. In the book, she shares her journey as a runner, her mental health struggles and much more. Alexi recently opened up about depression and her mother’s suicide in a video op-doc with The New York Times. The strength and grace in which Alexi speaks to the issues is incredible. I hope you enjoy this episode between two friends.

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– “In retrospect, I definitely had symptoms that should have been red flags as soon as December when the Olympics were in August – maybe even in November. I had trouble sleeping and I think that came back to my feelings that I needed to press onward and continue building on the momentum I had but really I had to respect all that I had done. I didn’t recognize it for a very long time. I think that was because I didn’t understand depression. I didn’t understand mental health. I definitely thought it was in my own hands to deal with it. That’s really sad to me because I have a history of mental health in my family. I just wasn’t prepared or educated at any time before then to understand why or what was going on. Finally, it had to be March or April, my dad made me get help because I think he knew some of those signs were not healthy. I didn’t want to get the kind of help that I needed at first because I simply didn’t understand that your brain is a body part and it can get injured. It took a meeting with that psychiatrist who is incredible and moving back to Oregon (where he was and I was in Mammoth where there were no mental health resources in-person.) I had stuff in a storage unit in Mammoth and Eugene. I needed to prioritize my mental health. I went back. That’s when I learned from this doctor that I was injured in my brain and I could get better. That was an epiphany for me and it made me feel much calmer. I was like, ‘OK. I’m just injured.’ As athletes, we totally understand. Before that, I felt like whatever I was going through was my own fault and it was a choice. I just didn’t understand that comparison because I didn’t have the vocabulary.”

– “Now that I’m fine and healthy, and I’ve been good and healthy for several years, I can recognize a lot sooner the little signs that we’re so accustomed to without bodies. If your body feels a little off, you might be wise and take a day off or your coach might help you decide to take a day off…Nobody wants to hurt themselves. I think they just simply do not understand that those little signs are worthy of their attention. For me, it’s a flip of a switch and obvious now.”

–”Think about your now self from the vantage point of your later self. I’m very stubborn. I feel like a lot of us runners are. We want to feel like winners. Figuring out, as best as you can, what narrative you might tell yourself later as to why this time was great or you grew from it even though it wasn’t what you expected. So for example I have a new trainer here. He’s like a trainer and a physio partner. This guy (his name is Dag) works with athletes from most other sports like the NFL, pro tennis and other great athletes. He really focuses on posture. I realized it’s a different approach. I’m learning how to flex the muscles around my spine, which I’ve never been able to do. It’s so cool and I wouldn’t have had time to make that shift if I was deep in a season in normal times. I’m trying to set myself up now so that later I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s why that happened! So I could meet Dag and flex my spine muscles.’ We have to believe that the world is in our favor even when there are challenges. That’s just a shift that we make to look for opportunities. Keep our heads up and look for opportunities. Another example was: I was injured when I was supposed to run my first marathon four years ago. I was really sad. That weekend that I was supposed to go to Chicago I went to this party in LA with my teammate Sarah Attar, who is the first female Olympian from Saudi Arabia. It was there that I met the president of the Olympics. It was not what I expected. But on his flight home from this party in LA, which was celebrating the 2028 bid, he saw ‘Tracktown’ my movie on the airplane randomly. Then, he invited me to Korea to make a project that I turned into a movie. My narrative about that whole injury has shifted.”

SEASON 2: Episode 1, Michelle Sammet | Episode 2, Porscha Dobson |Episode 3, Roberta Gibb | Episode 4, Katherine Burgess | Episode 5, Mrs. Space Cadet | Episode 6, Emma Abrahamson | Episode 7, Erika Kemp

SEASON 1: All 12 episodes are available to download and stream. Guests included Molly Seidel, Alison Wade, Nia Akins, Mary Cain and more.

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