Bravey; My Mother’s Daughter
Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas By Alexi Pappas Penguin Random House My Mother’s Daughter
A Memoir of Struggle and Triumph By Perdita Felicien Doubleday Canada (Pre-orders until March 30)
When runner, filmmaker and writer Alexi Pappas read Variety’s review of her first film, Tracktown, the day after it premiered at the L .A. Film Festival, she was dismayed by its reference to her “f lat chest and freakishly gnarled feet.” Of course, her chest and feet are not unusual among Olympians in the 10,000m, but for this critic, the casting was a little too authentic. (Pappas played the main character. Other critics were less unkind.) Pappas is not your average runner, writer or filmmaker, and though she has many fans, she also has detractors who are uncomfortable with her quirkiness.
Thankfully, this is changing, and will change even more with this beautifully written memoir. Pappas describes, in sometimes harrowing detail, her memories of her mother, who died by suicide when Pappas was four. Pappas always felt different by virtue of this fact, which helped her build a type of resilience unusual in a young athlete, and created a drive to succeed that almost killed her. (Pappas herself went through a long bout of clinical depression after the 2016 Olympics, something she revealed publicly for the first time in a New York Times video on Dec. 7.) Unlike her mom, Pappas was eventually able to get the help she needed, and came to understand that her depression was a mental injury not unlike the physical injuries she sustained in training and competition.
The title is Pappas’s pet name for herself and anyone who approaches running – and life – with courage. There’s also plenty of great reading about her running and filmmaking careers, her husband (filmmaker Jeremy Teicher) and her father.
Like Pappas, Perdita Felicien also grew up with a mother whose challenges dominated her daughter’s experience and shaped her development as both an athlete and a person. But the mother of the two-time Olympian, world champion, 10-time Canadian champion and national 100m hurdles record holder is very much alive, and despite constantly struggling to earn enough in her early days as a foreign domestic worker to feed her growing family, she always made her feel loved. (Perdita, born in Oshawa, Ont., is the third of Catherine Felicien’s five children.)
For years, Catherine endured poverty, poor treatment by indifferent employers, casual racism, abandonment by Perdita’s biological father and a rocky and occasionally abusive relationship with the man Perdita calls Dad. When, in public school, Perdita started running – and winning – Catherine was too distracted to pay much attention. But she soon became her biggest cheerleader, pushing her to take her talent as far as she possibly could, even when the family couldn’t afford things other athletes took for granted. (The first time Catherine was able to visit Perdita at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she had won three ncaa titles, was her graduation day.)
Besides being a tribute to the most important inf luence in her life, the book is also the first time Felicien has told the full story of her career. Many Canadians remember her disastrous crash in the 100m hurdles final in Athens in 2004. She came back, only to face a catastrophic injury in competition in 2008, but she came back from that, too, and continued racing until 2013. Felicien is now a broadcaster with cbc Sports, and she became a mother herself in 2019. She is still the only Canadian woman to win world championship gold in track and field.— AF