Beyond the finish line: Olympian Alexi Pappas shares stories, advice and insights

Alexi Pappas visited Elon University on Monday, March 11, as part of the Liberal Arts Forum lecture series. 

As an Olympic runner, Greek-American Alexi Pappas has navigated a life full of both triumphs and challenges. Off the track, Pappas excels as an award-winning filmmaker, actor, and recently published author of her book, “Bravey.” As part of the Liberal Arts Lecture Forum, Pappas shared some of her wisdom with the Elon community on Monday, March 11, in Whitley Auditorium.

Upon taking the stage, Pappas delved into some of the difficulties she has encountered as an athlete, student, and creative thinker. This included her reflection on losing her mother to suicide at the age of four.

“It felt like something was taken from me … and it would have been really easy to make a rule of life that the world was a place of scarcity where things would continue to get taken from me,” Pappas shared. “When my mom passed away, I chose to believe that even though I could not have her, I could have everybody else; other mentors, female figures, and of course the lessons that I learned myself along the way.”

Pappas joined various sports teams to keep herself busy but ended up finding her passion in running. She emphasized the importance of chasing one’s “North Star,” and encouraged the audience to pursue their own genuine goals and aspirations.

“Chasing your frontier, no matter what it is, however big or small, it’s very important to give yourself a window of time in which you grant yourself permission to be fully dedicated to pursuing your goal,” she said. “During this time, do not question the goal itself. You don’t question a workout in the middle of a rep, right?”

Pappas has seen great success as a runner and currently holds the Greek national record in the 10,000 meters, but she confessed that she often struggles with depression following her races, as it is hard to come down from the emotional high reached during the competitions. She described her coping mechanism for these moments, explaining that she places just as much importance on relaxing after a big event as she does preparing for it.

“Please respect that you need a decompression period after any peak in your life,” she advised. “It is so normal and so necessary.”

Pappas then sat down for a discussion with Madison Synowiec ‘24, a member of the Elon cross country team, and Maggie Reetz ‘27, a member of the Liberal Arts Forum. The three discussed the importance of mentorship, the discovery and pursuit of passions, and the dedication to achieving goals.

“You’re gonna going to live a really good life if you know you’re someone who tried their best,” Pappas explained. “You can never expect yourself to be the best, but I am deeply satisfied with trying my hardest.”

Pappas ended the session by fielding questions from the audience.

Every semester, the Liberal Arts Forum votes on two speakers to visit Elon’s campus and share their experiences and expertise on a variety of topics. More upcoming events can be found on Elon’s Cultural Calendar.