Greek-American runner and Olympic hopeful Alexi Pappas will return to Chicago this weekend to defend her title in the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle.
Meet Alexi Pappas
Born in Berkeley, CA and raised in Alameda, CA, Alexi Pappas, 26, was raised by her Greek-American father.
“I was 4 when my mom passed away. My Godmother, and the many strong female role models in my life are all Greek. My dad and my brother are such a big part of my life. My dad is a big source of encouragement for me as an athlete.”
She traces her Greek roots to the island of Rhodes. Unfortunately, her academic and athletic schedule have limited her trips to the motherland.
“I’ve have seen my grandmother’s home, the Olympic Stadium, met extended family. It’s wonderful. I can’t wait to go there in May for National Championships.”
Alexi has run on and off since high school, but it wasn’t until college that she began to compete nationally. After college she began competing at the international level. She attended Dartmouth College, then graduate school at the University of Oregon, where she studied film. Among her accolades are two NCAA team titles, and she’s a five-time All-American.
“It was then that I discovered there might be a life for me in running, beyond college.”
After Dartmouth, Alexi qualified for the Olympic Trials. She had been a steeplechaser, but then realized her “true calling” was on the track at 10,000 meters.
“A year ago, I ran the Olympic standard on my first time on the track. Also for the first time, I felt like I really belonged. I felt most at home on the track in that event.”
Alexi is also a filmmaker and a poet. A film she co-wrote with her boyfriend, called TRACKTOWN, is not in post-production.
Dream to run for Greece
Alexi recently became a U.S./Greece dual citizen, as it’s her dream to compete for Greece in the Olympics.
“Once I reached the international level, I began to consider competing for Greece. Since then, I met and discussed it with Yannis Nikolaou, one of the heads of IAAF, the governing body of track and field, who had been in Eugene, OR where I live and train. We discussed the possibility to compete for Greece, and I saw it as an opportunity to pursue my goals in the sport — to compete at the highest level, find my potential, and inspire as many people as possible as a runner. Competing for Greece would be a tremendous gift, and an opportunity to connect me with a new audience, a new purpose in running, to fuel me to be a better runner, and have the ability to inspire even more people. Not to mention, it would better connect me to my roots.”
Alexi said she’s been embraced by the Greek community — in Chicago, in particular. She’s looking forward to returning here this weekend, not only to compete, but also to share the news in person with Dr. George Chiampas, the medical director for the Chicago Marathon and Shamrock Shuffle, whom she met last year.
Journey to the Olympics
While Alexi has run the Olympic standard previously, she will need to run it in a 10k, and possibly a 5k, as a Greek athlete. To prepare, she’s training with her team in Arizona, adjusting to higher altitudes. She’ll then return to Oregon and California, where she’ll continue to race and try to meet the standards. From there, she’ll go to Greece to compete in the 10k national championships, on May 21. A victory would secure a place on the Olympic team. That would bring her another distinction: she’d be the only 2016 Olympian who is also a filmmaker.
Chicago’s 2016 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8k is a “big race”, if you aren’t a marathon runner.
Last year, Alexi came to Chicago for the first time, to compete. She won.
“This race helps you so easily fall in love with the race and the running community in Chicago. You get a quick tour of the city, and learn what it feels like to run the Chicago Marathon. The Shuffle has a special place in my heart. I know I can actually compete and win.”
She said she always races to win, regardless of the weather or any other challenges. Last year, it was cold on race day.
“It was a last minute decision for me to wear pants. They also giveaway stuff; last year it was a gator, that I wore to keep my ears warm. That was my extra secret weapon! I love how the community comes out and it’s a big party, a celebration. It’s really motivating, especially as a runner, and coming from a track background. On the track, you basically run in circles and don’t really go anywhere.”
Alexi said she feels very connected to the city and its energy. She’ll be back this April 3 to defend her title, and go to her favorite Greek restaurant, Greek Islands, which Dr. Chiampas had told her about. She won’t forget her pants and the gator.
If you’re in town, come out and cheer on Alexi as she defends her title, this Sunday, at the Shamrock Shuffle. The race starts and finishes in Grant Park, at Columbus Drive and Monroe Street. Wave 1 starts at 8:30 am, and Wave 2 at 9:00 am. Race ends at 1:30 pm. The Post-Race Party begins at 2:00 pm at Scout Waterhouse and Kitchen, 1301 S. Wabash. Bring a Greek flag so she can spot you.
Follow Alexi on Twitter