USMES Athlete: Adam Popp Empowers & Inspires Others To Challenge Themselves

September 10, 2020

USMES Athlete: Adam Popp Empowers & Inspires Others To Challenge Themselves

Felt Bicycles is a proud supporter of US Military Endurance Sports, a registered 501 (c)3 non-profit amateur sports organization whose mission is “to promote endurance sports as part of a healthy lifestyle to active and Veteran members of the US Armed Forces.” USMES members are some of the most passionate cyclists and triathletes anywhere, and they’re as dedicated to promoting bike riding as part of a healthy lifestyle as they are serving the people of the United States and its allies. This collection of blogs showcases a few USMES athletes who exemplify the spirit that all cyclists share, one of perseverance in the face of adversity and relishing the unique freedom that a bicycle can provide all individuals. (Photos courtesy of Pactimo / Adam Pawlikiewicz Mesa)

Back in 2007, Adam Popp was serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Leader, and was a twelve-year combat veteran with the Air Force. He'd had deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan. While serving in Afghanistan, when he was injured by an IED. This resulted in his right leg needing to be amputated above the knee. It wasn't until eight years after his life-changing injury that Adam felt he was ready to try running again.

In late 2015, he became the very first above-knee amputee to complete a 100-mile ultramarathon within the vaunted 30-hour cutoff limit. Later, in 2017, Adam took second place at the Boston Marathon in the Mobility Impaired division. He was also the very first amputee to finish the event that year. He also became the first amputee to complete the longest-running ultramarathon in America—the JFK 50.

Seeking new challenges, Adam started to compete in Paratriathlon events. In 2018, he won the ITU Paratriathlon World Cup event in Sarasota, Florida. Then, in 2019, Adam took 5th place overall in the ITU Paratriathlon World Championship, which was held that year in Lausanne, Switzerland. He eventually went on to score five podium placings in nine different events.

When he's not training or competing, Adam Popp serves as a consultant for the Boston Athletic Association. He also finished his Master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. Adam is a certified peer mentor—as well as a peer mentor trainer—via the Amputee Coalition of America. As part of this program, he assists fellow amputees and various other people with disabilities to chase their athletic dreams.

Read on to learn a bit more about Adam and his unique experiences in the military and in endurance sports.

usmes adam popp

FELT: Tell us how you first got into cycling / triathlon.

AP: After my injury in December 2007, I re-learned how to ride a bike using a prosthetic as a part of rehabilitation. But I only did a handful of recreational rides in the two years immediately following my injury, and then I mostly gave up on riding a bike or any form of exercise. In April 2015, I decided to try and learn to run with a prosthetic. After accomplishing that and seeing several military friends who were paratriathletes (Luis Morales, Melissa StockwellI, and others), I decided it was time for a new challenge and reached out to them for help in getting me started.  After a lot of research and training, I completed my first triathlons in August (Quantico) and September (Nations in DC) 2015. I then started to slowly set my sights on bigger goals from Nationals, to ITU, to ITU World Championships last year, which was a five-year process and unfathomable when I started in the summer of 2015.

FELT: In which branch of the military do you serve? Tell us about your service experience.

AP: I am a 12-year combat veteran of the U.S. Air Force with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team Leader. The EOD career field is responsible for disarming and disposing of explosive threats throughout the world, including Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) during wartime. In 2007, I was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan resulting in the amputation of my right leg above the knee and was subsequently medically retired from the USAF in 2009.


FELT: Tell us about your experience training and competing with USMES.

AP: Transitioning from the military can be difficult. After transitioning out of the military following my injury, I didn't have a strong community with a positive influence until I found the running and triathlon communities. USMES combines both communities I am passionate about, including the military-minded community that can relate to your experiences from your service along with the endurance athletes who are always finding ways to challenge themselves. This community is very unique and from my perspective has been incredibly helpful.

FELT: What are some interesting facts about yourself that you’d like to share?

AP: Here’s a quick list of fun facts about me: I went back to Afghanistan as a civilian in 2009 after losing my leg there in 2007. For most of 2008, I lived in a van and traveled across the US. Even though I don't drink, my face was on the label of a major US whiskey brand. I threw a football with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the South Lawn of the White House, which is a big deal for a kid who grew up in Indiana. After not running from December 2007 until April 2015, I completed a marathon in November 2015, then a 100-mile ultra in December 2016. I was featured in a documentary on how sport can help to heal both physical and emotional trauma.

adam popp usmes

FELT: Tell us about your short-term and long-term competitive goals.

AP: 2020 has been a challenging year for goal-setting, as everything I had planned so far was canceled. I was hoping to get my first Ironman under my belt in 2020, but both races I signed up for were canceled. Hopefully I can complete them next year. I'd like to make it back to the ITU world championships when that happens. And I have been working towards some higher level ultras for the past three years, so I'm hoping that will eventually pay off. I try not to put too much pressure on big goals and focus more on the small consistent steps along the way that have continued to add up to big (positive) surprises (for me) down the line.

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