And it has paid off for the Marmion resident who has spent 16 hours in the water every week for the past few months.
The Year 10 student recently broke the 200m freestyle Australian Age record in the S8 grade for a 15-year-old, swimming 2:30.86.
Popham then bettered his own time, swimming the same event in 2:29.44.
He said it felt good to know his hard work had paid off.
“Initially, I thought I was 0.3 of a second over but that was some other number I had in my head so I was initially quite annoyed,” Popham said.
“But then I saw my family in the stands and they were all excited for me, so that was good and just reinforced the training that I’ve done that I am on the right track.”
Popham was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as an infant and started swimming when he was nine years old.
“My muscles were getting really tight so the doctors suggested I should get into sport and it was either swimming or horse riding so I just picked swimming and then it went from there,” he said.
“In a team game you can always find someone else to blame other than yourself, but in swimming it’s only you.
“If you don’t get the time you want you can’t blame anyone else, which helps you realise if you did something wrong and helps you get better.”
Popham recently spent one week at a training camp in Rotorua, New Zealand.
Swimming 86km in six days, Popham was gearing up for the Australian Age Swimming Championships, which were held in Adelaide from March 28 to April 4.
The preparation paid off with a gold medal in the 11 to 15 years boys’ multiclass 400m freestyle and bronze in the 15 to 16 years boys’ multiclass 100m freestyle.
He is also just finished competing in the Australian Championships, in Adelaide from April 7 to 14, which is an open event and doubles as selections for the Olympics and Paralympics.
“This is the second time I have qualified for Open Nationals so I’m just trying to get the selectors to notice me and get on the radar,” he said.
The determined athlete admitted he has big plans after nationals. “The Paralympics is the ultimate goal,” Popham said.
“Going to Rio or Tokyo would be huge.”