published Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Popps' pop joins kids on U.S. team

Tom Popp has joined his children in international kayaking competition, and
the whole family will be at the Whitewater World Championships next week at
La Plagne, France, next week.
Tom Popp has joined his children in international kayaking competition, and the whole family will be at the Whitewater World Championships next week at La Plagne, France, next week.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The paddling Popps are adding their pop at the Whitewater World Championships next week at La Plagne, France.

Tom Popp, a 55-year-old Hixson orthodontist, is returning to international competition at the site of his last such event 25 years ago. Going with him as part of the United States team are his sons Colton, 22, and Bryson, 16, in men's two-man canoe, and daughter Haley, 19, in women's kayak.

Youngest daughter Selena, 15, also competes but was too young for U.S. qualifying last October on the Russell Fork River in Kentucky.

Chattanoogan Terry Smith in men's kayak also is part of the U.S. contingent, giving this area at least a third of the nation's team.

The three oldest Popp kids all repeated as national champions last month at Jackson Hole, Wyo., where their dad was third overall and won his masters division in one-man canoe.

"Since my kids were doing it, I thought I'd give it a try," Tom Popp said. "I don't expect to be competitive in the young man's race, but they'll have age-group masters races one day there, and I hope I can be competitive in that.

"It's going to be great being on the same U.S. team with my kids. There will probably be about 30 countries there. Some will have full teams -- each country is allowed to have four boats of each type class -- but some don't fill all the slots."

Papa Popp has stayed active in recreational padding while working with his kids over the years, and his wife, Starr, is the master organizer, photographer and "shuttle bunny" (in Colton's words) -- the ultimate team mom.

"We practice through the winter and spring on the Nantahala and Ocoee rivers," Tom said, "and we live on North Chickamauga Creek, so we get an almost daily flatwater workout. We went up to the Russell Fork a couple of weeks before qualifying and got some work in.

"We went to the Ocoee last weekend and I started to feel pretty good," he added. "Once we get everything done and get on the plane, I'll start getting psyched up, and then when we get there and see some of the other boats from the other countries, it will really start sinking in."

Tom's experience is part of his kids' excitement about his return to competition.

"It's an honor. It's really nice to have somebody like him to look up to. He knows everybody in the sport and he's kind of a legend," Colton said. "And he understands the whole nervousness before competition. Seeing how he composes himself is good for us.

"For a while he kind of served as a team manager, but I think he missed the racing part of it. Once he realized we could take care of ourselves, he decided to get back in it. It's really kind of cool."

Colton and Bryson have won three consecutive C-2 national titles together and finished 19th in Spain in the last Worlds in 2010.

"Our goal this time is to make the top 10," Colton said.

Haley is on a U.S. Worlds team for the fourth year in a row, counting two juniors events.

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