Alexi Pappas: runner, writer, actor, film maker
Fans of Oregon cross country know Alexi Pappas as the young woman who burst onto the scene last fall as a transfer student, winning her second race as a Duck and becoming a key contributor on a team that won its first conference title since 1995 and claimed its first NCAA Championship since 1987.
Her friends and teammates also know her as a poet, writer, actor and aspiring film maker, a team leader, and a woman who likes to wear retro letterman jackets and vintage, oversized men’s glasses.
Pappas’ brief, brilliant running career at the University of Oregon will come to a close this weekend when she competes in the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. The Women of Oregon will be going for their fourth straight indoor national title.
Pappas (@alexipappas on Twitter) arrived at Oregon last fall as a graduate student after completing her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, at Dartmouth University. She was one of nine nominees for NCAA Women Athlete of the Year for accomplishments in athletics, academic and service.
She had one season of eligibility remaining in cross country and one in indoor track. She enrolled in an interdisciplinary master’s program of her own design, studying film, creative writing and entrepreneurial business.
Pappas, who grew up in Alameda, in the Bay Area, leapt at the chance to compete for Oregon.
“I wanted to be part of a team that was a moving train, to which I could contribute, where my presence on the team would matter,” she said.
“I felt comfortable with Oregon right away. The energy here was just really good,” she said. “I feel very lucky because the program makes it so easy to work hard.”
She came to Eugene last summer, racing the steeplechase in the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials wearing a green Dartmouth singlet.
In her first race as a Duck last September, Pappas finished second at the Pier Park Invitational in Portland. In her next race, Pappas won the Bill Dellinger Invitational in Springfield —her first cross country win as a collegian.
“Winning the Dellinger race felt good because it showed me I could contribute to what eventually materialized as a national championship team,” Pappas said. “What's more, I was taken aback by how many people came out to watch the race, and I realized then that being on the Oregon team meant more than just being a part of a team, but rather, a community of runners.”
At the NCAA Championships. Pappas was eighth, the second Duck finisher behind third-place finisher Jordan Hasay, helping lead the team to its first national title since 1987.
“I knew we had a shot” at the title, Pappas said. “We made a conscious decision to put ourselves there, a series of choices, a choice to be a team.
“We all did what we needed to do to help the team. … Our biggest strength was, we had tactics. We had a race plan. It helps to have a coach you trust. It makes it easy to and fun to report to duty.”
Pappas’ coach, Maurica Powell, said Pappas’ greatest gift is her abiility to inspire those around her.
“She has a phenomenal knack for really reaching other people,” she said. “Simply put, Alexi brings out the best in everyone around her.”
Pappas and Hasay forged a friendship and a strong training partnership, logging roughly 1,000 miles together leading up to the NCAA Championships.
“Despite the fact that each of these women is fiercely competitive, they truly developed an ‘us against the world’ mentality and carried one another through challenging races and training sessions,” Powell said. “Alexi and Jordan modeled a true partnership, and the idea of shared responsibility was contagious on our team.”
Pappas has wide ranging interests beyond running. She writes poetry and screenplays, and performs improvisational comedy. She spent two terms learning improv in Los Angeles and New York with the Upright Citizens Brigade, the troupe co-founded by Amy Poehler.
And she’s a film maker: She and her boyfriend Jeremy Teicher co-wrote “Tall as the Baobab Tree,” a fictional account of a teenage girl who hatches a secret plan to rescue her 11-year-old sister from an arranged marriage in Senegal. The movie is inspired by true stories, based on a documentary Teicher made earlier in Senegal.
The movie, directed by Teicher, has been making the international film festival circuit this winter, earning strong reviews.
Pappas and Teicher, meanwhile, have begun work on their next film project, titled “Stick & Chub,” which she described as a coming-of-age story set in the world of elite distance running. Pappas is set to play one of the lead roles, and would like to shoot the film in Eugene.
“It’s not a typical sports movie,” Pappas said. "Elite college runners are really just a bunch of girls who are growing up.
“What Jeremy and I are interested in are discovering these hidden worlds."
In addition to pursuing a career as a film maker, Pappas said she also wants to continue her running career as a professional, but she’s not yet figured out what that will look like.
“There’s a wide range of post-collegiate running lives,” she said. "Continuing to run while making movies and being creative would make for a pretty fun and lucky life."