Canadian Running

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Bravey; My Mother’s Daugh­ter

- Supermodels · Celebrities · Olympic Games · New York City · University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign · Champaign, IL · Illinois · Athens · Alexi Pappas · Oshawa · Ontario · Urbana, IL

Bravey

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

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