Track Star Alexi Pappas Chases Olympic Dreams In Her New Feature Film
(Photo: Courtesy of Michael Sherman)
This is a big weekend for Alexi Pappas. Tracktown — the feature film she co-wrote, co-directed and stars in — is premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film follows a young runner named Plumb Marigold as she chases her dream of qualifying for the Olympics.
Pappas tells NPR's Ari Shapiro that there have been some problems ahead of the premiere. "I may have actually slept through the opening night red carpet," she says.
But she has a good excuse — her other job. Pappas is one of the world's fastest runners, and this summer she will compete for Greece at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (Pappas is Greek-American.) She says that most of the time, this creative balance works.
"I think it actually enhances the running because it forces me to really be present when I'm at practice and take advantage of that time," she says. "And then when I come home, there's a really great balance of needing to end practice every day and having something to go to. ... But certainly, you know, my time goes to the running first because of this Olympic journey ahead."
On whether the film is autobiographical
I would say that the film is based on my experiences and observations as an elite runner chasing the Olympic dream, but it's more like a patchwork quilt of these experiences and observations. So Plumb could exist, but she's not me or anyone in particular that I know.
On why she chose to frame some characters as just body parts (legs, mouth, etc.)
The perspective of running a race is so odd because you're on a track with thousands of people ... in the stands and you're running, you know, fast and hard, and the things that you see are very limited. And I think we wanted to show the perspective of what it might feel like to run a race, and also what Plumb is going through.
So before the race, she notices the bodies around her. And there's an element of the female athletic body being this really different creature, and one that I certainly, personally, didn't ever think I would necessarily become when I was a young girl. But also the grappling of her growing up and trying to be a normal girl when she has this very strong body.
On trying to be a role model when it comes to body image among female athletes
I think that ... it's important to talk about and say, "Hey, this is silly and that's awesome and you're beautiful," and not in a way that is coming from a place of self-consciousness, but rather giving a gift of confidence to a teammate.
And I think I certainly have gotten that from role models of mine who wear their bodies so beautifully and so proudly. And if I can — you know, on social media and things like that — show younger girls that I'm proud of my body or I'm eating this steak; rather than sending out, you know, "Just ran 20 miles" — it's like that's not going to help anybody. But to show that I'm happy with what I've become and proud of who I am I think is, you know, contagious in a good way. I hope.
On Plumb's relationship with her mother, who has mental health problems and has been out of Plumb's life for a long time
I think the relationship between Plumb and Gail, her mom, is interesting to me because for someone to try to become their greatest woman self — like I'm trying to become and like Plumb is trying to become — becomes a challenge if there's not somebody to emulate. And I think Plumb doesn't necessarily have the exact person to latch onto and try to become. ...
It's almost like an athletic instinct there, where like, hey, you prepare as best you can for a race: you control what you can control, you eat the proper pre-race meal, you get your sleep if you can, you've done all the miles. But when you toe the line, unexpected things are going to happen. So let's say you're in a race and the kick you want isn't there, well then you attack another aspect of the race, or you kick earlier if you don't quite have the speed to close. And perhaps with her mom it's similar in that if she's not there, then Plumb is going to push on. Like, she has a strength in her that I hope people see.
On why she chose to run for Greece in the Olympics
I'm dual-citizen Greek-American and I had the unique opportunity to compete for Greece and took it because I think it aligns best with my goals in the sport, which are to compete at the highest level — and I don't doubt that I can make the U.S. team, but I was selected for the Greek team — and also to ... inspire the most amount of people — and as a Greek athlete, I'll be the first Greek woman to run the 10,000 meters in the Olympics.
And to have impact on a country where the sport was born and to enter the Olympic stadium first and to be a role model to a whole new group of young athletes in Greece and Europe is such a gift.