In December 2007, Retired U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Adam Popp was rehabbing at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Earlier in the month, he had been injured by an IED while deployed to Afghanistan in support of the U.S. Army during Operation Enduring Freedom that resulted in losing his right leg above the knee. Approximately ten years later, Adam is preparing to represent Team USA at the third Invictus Games, scheduled to take place September 23-30 in Toronto, Canada.
Founded in 2014 by the United Kingdom’s Prince Harry, the Invictus Games use sports to inspire and garner support for the men and women who serve their country. More than 550 athletes from 17 nations will compete in 12 adaptive sports. Adam is among the 41 athletes on this year’s Team USA 90 member roster that has participated in activities organized by Disabled Sports USA or one of our chapters.
Around the second or third month of rehab, he went to an open house at the hospital and was introduced to DSUSA. Among the first things he participated in was the 2008 Ski Spectacular. Since then, he has skied at other locations and went on a scuba diving trip to Guantanamo Bay with SUDS, a DSUSA chapter.
It wasn’t until 2015 when Adam really became active in adaptive sports, and particularly, running. That Memorial Day weekend, he joined up with DSUSA’s team that participated in the annual Ski to Sea adventure race. In 2016, he started running competitively and not just for recreation. From November of last year until May of this year, Adam has participated in three marathons (including this year’s Boston Marathon), three ultramarathons (greater than 26 miles), and went on an 87-mile hiking trek through the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. He hiked the “O Circuit,” the most extreme route which takes more than a week to complete.
This past summer, Adam had the opportunity to participate in the Warrior Games. He competed in approximately a dozen events and walked away with five gold medals in track events, a gold medal in upright cycling, two silver medals in field events, and two bronze medals, including one in the 100 Meter Freestyle swimming event (he swims regularly at Walter Reed and practices there). But the most thrilling part of that experience for him was having his family see him compete since the event took place in Chicago, where his brother lives. About 12 family members and friends in total were able to join him for the experience, some driving up from Louisville, Kentucky. “They really hadn’t been able to see me compete until then,” he said.
Which brings us back to this year’s Invictus Games, as his family will be joining him in Toronto as well. There, Adam will be competing in a number of sporting events, including Indoor Rowing (4 minute and 1 minute time trials), Cycling (crit and time trial), and Athletics (he will be running in the 100, 200, 400, and 1500).
At the Air Force Trials, he felt his distance and times were competitive with previous events but he thinks he will be most competitive in the 400 and 1500 track events because long distance runs are truly his forte. At Invictus, he is looking forward to the higher level of competition as well as spending time with fellow American and NATO service members. “The bond is strong among us because of the things we have in common- being in the military, being injured, and enjoying sports,” Adam said. In fact, he is familiar with some of the soldiers he will be competing against because of his participation in events such as the Army 10 Miler (which takes place in Washington, D.C.), the City to Surf run in Australia with the Australian Defense Force and Canadian Military, and others.
There will be no rest for Adam following the Invictus Games as he immediately heads to Sarasota, Florida to compete in the ITU (International Triathlon Union) Paratriathlon World Cup.
For the Purple Heart recipient, it has been an incredible journey. The discipline and dedication learned through sports has carried over in his day to day life. “My parallel life in terms of education, career, and general wellbeing has taken off as well, it is no coincidence.”
Adam is currently finishing his Masters degree in Rehab Counseling. He will graduate in May from George Washington University. As part of that program, he is interning with Linden Resources, a Washington metropolitan area nonprofit that provides meaningful employment opportunities to people with disabilities and wounded veterans. With the support of the VA, he is working towards becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Adam continues to stay involved with DSUSA as one of our Warfighter Sports Ambassadors. We wish him continued success on his incredible journey!