Side by Side, With No Finish Line in Sight
During a rap concert on the Dartmouth campus in October 2009, Alexi Pappas, dressed in a full-body leotard and sitting in the front row, was called on stage to dance.Posted — Updated
During a rap concert on the Dartmouth campus in October 2009, Alexi Pappas, dressed in a full-body leotard and sitting in the front row, was called on stage to dance.
Pappas, then a sophomore on the school’s cross-country team and a member of the Dog Day Players, an on-campus improvisational theater group, accepted the invitation.
As Pappas began to dance and the decibel level began to rise, Jeremy Teicher, a senior and aspiring filmmaker who was on stage covering the event as a photographer, trained his lens on Pappas.
“I couldn’t look away,” he said. “I was just thrown by her beauty.”
Teicher soon began asking around about the girl whose image he could not get out of his mind.
“I knew she was a girl from the improv,” he said. “But I had no idea that she was a runner. I had never been to a track meet in my life.”
As it turned out, Teicher had met Pappas the previous semester at a campus party. “We even danced together that night, but he doesn’t remember,” Pappas said, laughing. “By the time we met on stage, I already knew who he was, and had been drawn to him in a passer-by kind of way, but he didn’t know I existed.”
The existence of Pappas, now 28 and an Olympic athlete, actress, writer and filmmaker, is well-known by sports and theater fans as well as a legion of young girls who want to be a professional distance runner like her. She has more than 34,000 Instagram followers and nearly as many on Twitter.
A Greek-American dual citizen who competed for Greece in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Pappas set a Greek national record of 31 minutes, 36 seconds in the 10,000-meter race. She is training now to represent Greece in the marathon for the 2020 Games.
But her star was not yet shining when Teicher and Pappas first began dating, and he walked into a campus library where she was studying and said to her, “I’m going to be very forward and honest with you, I’d like us to spend more alone-time together.”
Pappas was a bit slow to respond.
“At first I was hesitant but I had always liked him so I said yes,” she said. “And we began hanging out more frequently.”
Daisy Jones, who had been a classmate of Teicher since their freshman year, noticed a significant change in the way he acted around Pappas early in their relationship.
“The way he prioritized her, the way he talked about her, it was obvious very early on that he was extremely serious about her,” Jones said. “They are two people who are very much in love, two people who always put each other first.”
A month after his alone-time request, Pappas was stunned yet again by Teicher, this time on a quiet Sunday morning as they waited on a breakfast line in a diner at Dartmouth.
“What are you going to order?” Teicher asked. “And will you go to the formal with me?”
Pappas was so taken by surprise, she could only utter the words, “Egg and tomato on a bagel — and yes.”
“So we went to the formal together that year,” she said, “and we became an official couple.”
So official in fact, that they would carve their initials on a tree on campus and go on to forge a partnership, with Teicher editing Pappas’ screenplays and poetry, and she editing his film scripts.
“We began collaborating just for fun,” said Teicher, now 29 and an award-winning film director, writer, and producer whose credits include the feature films “Tracktown” and “Tall as the Baobab Tree,” and the short film series “Olympic Dreams” and “Speed Goggles.” It was not long, however, before their collaboration became much more intense.
“We began inspiring each other and pushing each other like teammates,” Pappas said. “We made each other believe in ourselves, and as a team, we began to believe that we could achieve any goal we set together.
“I had been writing poetry at the time, and though I loved doing it, it was still six hours a day of writing, all alone,” she said. “But when I started working with Jeremy, it was suddenly invigorating.”
At the conclusion of Pappas’ sophomore year, Teicher graduated. He returned home to Bernardsville, New Jersey, to continue his film work, briefly living with his parents, Mala Bawer and James Teicher, the founders of CyberSmart Education, a social enterprise providing innovative digital learning solutions in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and the United States.
Teicher soon moved to Brooklyn and later Manhattan, and he and Pappas began a long-distance relationship that she said was “beneficial to both of us.” (They were apart for only six weeks when he called her on New Year’s Eve, 2010, and tossed out, via telephone, their first “I love you,” which was quickly reciprocated.)
“Being apart, I was able to put more time into my running, and I no longer feared missing out on the late-night party scene on campus,” she said. “And Jeremy could really bear down on his film work.”
Pappas soon became poetry in motion on the collegiate cross-country circuit. After a slow freshman start she attributed to “exploring other aspects of college life,” she had risen to national prominence by her senior year, finishing third in the country in the steeplechase event.
She went on, albeit begrudgingly, to the University of Oregon, turning down full academic scholarships to pursue various master’s degrees in writing from Columbia, Southern California and the University of California, Irvine, to run on full athletic scholarship at the top cross-country program in the nation.
“I gave up on a poetry degree to go to Oregon because it was the best school in the country for running,” she said with a sigh, failing to mention that she helped lead Oregon’s cross-country team to the 2012 NCAA women’s title, the same year that Teicher’s “Tall as the Baobab Tree,” which he wrote with Pappas, made its world premier.
“Jeremy and my professors were fully supportive of that decision, as was my family, she said, referring mainly to her father, John Pappas of Alameda, California, who works as an energy policy principle at the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco, as well as her stepmother, Kristina Pappas and older brother, Louis Pappas. (Her mother, Roberta Pappas, died in 1995, when Pappas was 4.) “Nevertheless,” said Pappas, who earned a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies at Oregon, “I remember feeling sick about turning down those three offers.”
Two years before, Teicher, also at a crossroads, had turned down a similar offer, forgoing the opportunity to study for a Master of Fine Arts degree in film at the University of Southern California. He went instead to Senegal, to begin filming “Tall as the Baobab Tree,” which headlined the NYC Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
“They were difficult decisions for both of us as we each turned down a sure thing for an unsure thing,” Teicher said, “but we were just following our dreams.”
In the summer of 2013, Teicher left his Manhattan apartment to live with Pappas in Eugene, Oregon, where she was finishing up a master’s degree, and beginning to train for the 2016 Olympics with the Oregon Track Club Elite. That year, Teicher was named by Filmmaker Magazine one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2013.
Three years later, Pappas’ and Teicher’s dreams began coming to fruition. She was then a Nike Pro competing in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where she ran with a trademark bun in her hair that seemed to propel her around the track and helped transform her into a darling of the games. “I think one of the main reasons so many girls look up to me is due to the trajectory of my athletic career,” Pappas said. “I went from being the worst runner on my college team to being an Olympian, and they know that it took a lot of hard work to get there.”
As for Teicher, his own reputation was bolstered by the release of “Trackdown,” in which Pappas starred alongside Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley. It premiered at the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival amid favorable reviews that led to its distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Earlier this year, Pappas and Teicher created the film series “Olympic Dreams"— where Pappas stars alongside Nick Kroll — as part of the International Olympic Committee’s new Artist In Residence Program.
Pappas is currently writing a book of essays for Random House called “Bravey” — her young fans call themselves Bravies — that will be published sometime before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Teicher is contributing his editing skills. “The collaboration lives on,” Pappas said.
They were married June 3 at the Madison Hotel in Morristown, New Jersey. Max Cooper, a Universal Life minister and friend of the couple, led a Jewish ceremony before 130 family members and friends.
The bride walked down the aisle with her father, to “Memories of You” by Louis Armstrong, performed by the band “Creswell Club.”
“From Day 1, their ability to communicate and support each has been very strong,” said Jim Teicher, the groom’s father, just after the couple were married. “They are courageous, bold, caring, and they think and act outside of the box in very brave ways.”
Shortly after at the reception, also at the Madison Hotel, the bride’s father, John Pappas, was saying much the same. “They are two very creative people who always seem to be on the same wavelength and always seem to bring out the best in each other. They make perfect partners.”
The bride agreed.
“After all these years, we’re still side by side,” she said. “And it’s going to stay that way forever, just like our initials on that tree at Dartmouth.”
ON THIS DAY
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