Haley Popp, who will begin college at UTC this fall, is the reigning U.S. junior champion in women’s K1 wildwater kayaking and will compete in the world championships this summer. Contributed Photo
The Popp family of Hixson is getting ready make their second trip to Europe to represent the United States in an international wildwater kayaking competition. And this year they’re bringing along another young local kayaker.
Haley Popp and her brother Bryson recently were selected as members of the Junior U.S. Wildwater Team that will compete in the Junior Wildwater World Championships in Opava, Czech Republic on July 25-31.
“We are all very excited to be traveling to Europe again,” Haley Popp said recently by e-mail. “The Junior Worlds will be different from last year’s Senior Worlds because all the competitors will be younger. We are looking forward to meeting paddlers from other countries who are our own age and competing against them.”
Wildwater is a discipline of canoeing and kayaking in which competitors race down whitewater rivers as quickly as possible without going through gates as in Olympic-style slalom kayaking.
Bryson, a student and wrestler at Baylor School, has had to break in a new teammate in the C2, or two-man canoe, catagory. Previously he competed with his older brother Colton, who no longer is eligible to compete in junior competition.
In Colton’s place, Bryson will paddle with fellow Baylor student Alex Sumida of Hixson, who will travel with Haley and Bryson, along with their parents, Tom and Starr Popp.
“Alex is a good friend of mine from school, and we have paddled together recreationally in the past,” Bryson Popp said. “I really enjoy being on the water with him, so he was an obvious choice.”
For his part, Sumida said he is excited to have a chance to join his classmate in competition with the best young paddlers in the world.
“I have a lot of respect for Bryson as a paddler and was excited for the opportunity to learn from his experience,” Sumida said. “Bryson has a great work ethic and trains year round, so it keeps me motivated to do the same.”
Bryson said getting used to having a new paddler in the boat with him has gone smoother than he initially expected.
“It’s been a lot easier to get in sync with Alex than I thought it would,” he said. “We get along really well, so we always end up having fun on the water. Because we both live in Chattanooga it has been really easy to train together and put in the time we need on the water and off.”
Even though they can’t compete in junior competition, Bryson and Colton Popp aren’t through working together. They will compete together in June at the national wildwater championships on the Arkansas River.
Haley has been the U.S. junior champion in women’s K1, or single kayak, for the past two years, and this will be her third year to compete at the junior wildwater world championships.
“From the past couple of years competing in World Championship events, I’ve learned to make realistic goals for myself in the upcoming races,” she said. “This year is my last eligible year as a junior competitor, so I want to make the most of my chances.”
Haley, who will begin college this fall in the honors program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has a severe hearing impairment and wears a hearing aid. But when she is paddling the hearing aid is left on land, and she says she can barely hear the roar of the river around her.
Her condition has not been a detriment to her ability to compete in whitewater competition. In fact, Haley feels it may have had some beneficial effects.
“I can’t say it has actually affected my kayaking career in a negative way — but maybe in a positive way,” she said. “I’m able to better focus on whitewater and racing without all the extra noise. I also have great communication skills from repeated practice of having to lip-read while on the water.”
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...