Bravey by Alexi Pappas

Note: This book club seeks to provide a space to explore the many facets of running and running-related topics through the lens of storytelling and real-world experiences from many different perspectives. As a result, some of the books we read may contain sensitive subject matter.

Trigger Warning: Passages in Bravey include descriptions of suicide and depression that some may find traumatizing. Reader discretion is advised.

Subtitle: What is a Bravey? (Introduction)

Posted on June 2nd, 2022

By Olivia Baker

"run like a bravey

sleep like a baby

dream like a crazy

replace can't with maybe

through sunny and shady" - Alexi Pappas, Twitter, August 31st, 2014

This is the poem that Alexi Pappas wrote (tweeted) not too long after graduating college (with degrees in English and creative writing) that would ultimately go viral and become the title of her 2021 memoir. But what exactly does bravey mean? In her own words, "I often chased outward-facing words and labels like strong, fierce, fast, funny. And I realized that they describe an energy you project in the world. But this word bravey felt different. It felt like a choice about the relationship you have with yourself." (Pappas, All Things Considered, NPR, Jan. 2021). What I think Pappas is saying here is that bravey represents a choice to define yourself on your own terms rather than in terms that someone else might assign to you. It is a perspective shift from striving for external validation to choosing to focus on the internal.

I chose this book because I think that we could all benefit from exploring what it meant to Alexi Pappas to become a bravey and discuss what such a shift would look like in our lives as well. Additionally, despite having only been released in 2021, Bravey is quickly becoming a classic must-read in the running community with recommendations coming in from all across the running world and beyond so I'm excited to dive in!

Discussion Questions:

1. When you read this poem, what meaning do you derive from the word bravey?

2. What excites you most about reading this book?

Subtitle: A Good Mentor is Like a Guiderail, Mini-blog #1

Forward, Introduction, Chapters 1-4

Posted on June 7th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

In many ways, a good mentor is like a guiderail. This is the view I've gained of mentorship as Pappas discusses the many great female mentors she has had throughout her childhood and into adulthood. All of the great mentors she mentions had qualities that she wished to emulate—her au pair Petra showed her how to be confident and curious, athletic and graceful, and her teacher Cynthia modelled the dedication it takes to commit to one task—but they were always careful to encourage her to follow her own path. As Petra said before she left, "Don't be me, be a very big Alexi instead…" (Bravey, unabridged audio, Chapter 3, 8:04-8:11). The journey of becoming our very big selves is one worth taking.

When we try to become someone else and walk someone else's journey, we miss out on the beauty of becoming bigger, better versions of ourselves and being ourselves is at the essence of what a ­bravey is. A good mentor doesn't want us to be like them, a good mentor empowers us to be our own best. Like a bowling ball bouncing off of the bumper, if we get the opportunity to get close enough to rub up against our mentors, like Pappas', I'd hope that we would gently brush off of them down our own path but carrying some of the traits that drew us to them in the first place.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you have a mentor who encouraged you to get into running, walking, or jogging? In what ways has this person mentored you?

2. Have you ever mentored anyone? In what ways can we be better mentors to others who may look up to us?

Subtitle: Treat Mental Health Like Physical Health, Mini-blog #2

Chapters 5-10

Posted on June 15th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

In the longest chapter of Bravey, Pappas discusses her struggle with depression in the midst of the uncertainty she faced after the 2016 Olympics and one thing she wants us to know immediately is that we should treat mental health like physical health. Mental health is like a muscle, but we don't often treat it that way. Like a muscle, if we want it to perform at it's best, we have to exercise it in productive ways. As a professional athlete, I've had the opportunity to work with a sports psychologist over the last several years to sharpen this mental muscle and optimize it to enhance my athletic performance. However, muscles are also capable of getting injured, infected, and afflicted with disease, beyond our control in many instances. As Pappas describes, depression, (along with the many other mental illnesses) is not something that you are it is something you have and as such, it needs to be treated. Sometimes that means rest, ice (cream?) and self-care for a few days. In other cases, this could mean seeing a healthcare professional and developing a treatment plan from there. Just like it is ok to strain your hamstring and go see a physical therapist, so too is it ok to not feel ok and go see a mental health professional. So, this week, lets find ways to exercise and care for the muscle that is our mental health.

Discussion Questions:

1. What are some small things that you do to care for your mental health?

2. In what ways can we treat mental health like physical health in our day-to-day lives?

Subtitle: The Will Power Budget, Mini-blog #3

Chapters 11-16

Posted on June 18th, 2022

By Olivia Baker

When I think of Alexi Pappas, an Olympic athlete, author, and filmmaker (actively pursuing all three at the same time at one point), and others who are achieving so much at such a young age, it is easy to think of them as very busy people. We see all the things that they are doing and wonder how they have time for anything outside of their business (like coming to chat with a small, but mighty runners' book club for instance). This is why in chapter 11 when she implores us to think of the things she's NOT doing rather than the things she is doing for a moment, I found it to be quite interesting. We get to explore those things through the lens of the will power budget.

In short, Pappas explains that we all have a finite amount of will power for each given day and every decision we make takes away a little bit of that will power. Some activities give us will power; others drain it. No amount of trying hard can increase the size of the daily tank. Therefore, becoming aware of the size of your will power tank and planning the day accordingly can increase your daily efficiency. So, what Pappas is NOT doing is making a lot of decisions each day. She has a routine that streamlines many decisions like what to wear, when to go run, what to eat for lunch, etc. She also is NOT letting her will power tank get too low. Just like when we are hungry, our ability to focus and be efficient becomes impaired when our will power tank gets too low. She budgets her day and fits in will power boosters accordingly to make sure that she always has enough. High achievers more often than not most certainly ARE busy people, but many of them are able to find time for things that they enjoy and the people they love by managing their will power budget efficiently every day.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you believe that our daily will power truly is finite? How is will power different from "energy" or "motivation"?

2. In what ways do you think you could make your daily routine more efficient?

Subtitle: In Pursuit of a Dream, Mini-blog #4

Chapters 17-21, Epilogue

Posted on June 30th

By Olivia Baker

In the last chapter of Bravey, Alexi Pappas discusses what it truly means to chase a dream. To chase a dream, you have to be committed, not merely interested. A lot of athletes go to see chiropractors and physical therapists because they are interested in having their ailment fixed. However, few are willing to spend the lonely hours of tedious rehabilitation work that it takes to fully heal a muscle and the further preventative care that is required to make sure the injury never comes back. A lot of people reach the first roadblock, whether it is a failure, a financial difficulty, or some other hardship, and become discouraged, choosing to walk away. Many set their sights on the prize but can't seem to find the time to put in the work to get there. It's one thing to choose to spend time doing other things, but in Pappas' mind, there is no such thing as "not having time" to pursue a dream. For some, this chapter may come across as a bit harsh, but the fact of the matter is, if it is truly your dream, you will find a way to go after it because, as Pappas says in so many words, the pursuit of the dream IS living the dream.

My dream is to become an Olympic medalist. In these years leading up to the next Olympics in 2024, I am blessed to be doing just that; molding myself into someone who can compete for a medal by then. Whether or not I win a medal in the moment does not change that I am, in this very instant, becoming an Olympic medalist. This goes for just about any dream. The only time a dream is not worth pursuing is if you are not giving 100% effort towards it every day, but if you are, you may just find that in the chase, you are already living it.

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Missed the book club conversation? Listen to Alexi Pappas discuss this book with the Runners Who Read Podcast here: