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This Olympian — and poet — on her love for “freedom within boundaries”

On Friday, long-distance runner Alexi Pappas will compete in Rio in her first-ever Olympic race. But unlike many of her Olympic peers, Pappas does not put all her talent in one basket. In addition to training as a world-class runner, she is also a filmmaker, actress and poet, and she writes about what she knows: track. “As a storyteller, I want to tell stories that I can uniquely tell,” she says.

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  • Gwen Ifill:

    Now: a poet and filmmaker who also happens to be an Olympic runner in Rio. She’ll be competing tomorrow.

    And, as you’ll see, there are a number of connections for her between the way she writes and the way she runs.

  • Alexi Pappas,, Greece:

    Olympic Long-distance Runner My name is Alexi Pappas. And I’m a professional long-distance runner with Nike. And I’m also a filmmaker, actress and poet.

    This summer, I will race in my first Olympic Games in the 10,000 meters on the track. I will be running for Team Greece. I’m a duel citizen and decided to compete for Team Greece because I can compete at the highest level, but I can also reach a young generation of girls who don’t necessarily have the long-distance role models that we are lucky enough to have in the United States. So, I’m very excited.

    I think I was a more serious poet before I was a serious runner. What I find with writing that is so special, and in poetry in particular, is, there’s such an economy of words. And I like having absolute freedom within boundaries.

    And in running, similarly, there are these limitations. So, in a race, you might have a certain lane that you have to stay in or a certain number of laps or a course. But within those boundaries, there’s so much room for freedom and creativity and personality.

    “Breaking Tape.”

    “It happened like I imagine it would feel to throw open big double doors, the kind from a mansion or dollhouse. I looked maybe like a very strong princess charging through the gate towards the castle I built myself.”

    “Tracktown” is a film that we have just made and premiered and is inspired by my observations and experiences as an elite runner in Eugene, Oregon. And when I moved to Eugene to run a fifth year with the Oregon Ducks after I graduated Dartmouth, I found that the town and the community embraced running in a way that I had never seen before.

  • Woman:

    “A goal is a dream with a deadline” — Napoleon Hill.

  • Alexi Pappas:

    As a storyteller, I want to tell stories that I uniquely can tell and stories in highly specific worlds that most people don’t get the chance to see.

    And so “Tracktown” is set in the running world, but is really about this girl, and what is her life like on the track, but especially off the track.

    The Olympics have been on my mind since my dad brought my brother and me to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. I wanted to experience something at the highest level. And being there, you’re among, like, greatness, like great minds and great bodies.

    In terms of being nervous about what people are concerned about in Rio, it’s not the first thing on my mind. And I think a lot of athletes will agree that we have worked for more than four years for this dream, for our whole lives.

    And nothing can stop most of us from going and realizing that dream.

    “Scary Things.”

    “The thing about scary things, like spiders, is that they do not scare me nearly as much as the things I want the most things.”

    The things you’re scared of, I think, is a reflection of how I feel every day. Like, as a runner and a filmmaker, I wake up every single day a little bit nervous, but in a good way. There’s always a goal that I always have, maybe a goal for that day or a goal for longer-term, an Olympic dream.

    It’s admitting that these pursuits are really hard, but they’re really beautiful. And I hope I always have something that I wake up being like a little bit scared and very excited for.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    You can read more about Alexi Pappas and hear her read more of her poems on our Web site at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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