Ben Popham (18) finalist for WA Sports Star award after 2018 international swimming feat

Ben Popham. Photo: Will Russell
Ben Popham. Photo: Will Russell

BEN Popham likes a challenge and for the 18-year-old, juggling his Year 12 studies last year while travelling to Cairns to earn a world swimming ranking in freestyle proved a worthy feat.

Popham has been chosen as a finalist for the WA Sports Star Award, in the running for the Junior Sports Star Award category, to commemorate his 2018 efforts.

“I started swimming for physiotherapy purposes when I was seven to help my Cerebral Palsy but decided to continue with the sport and start competing and it’s been an upward trajectory since, I’d say,” Popham said.

Popham was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP) as an infant.

The 2011 Telethon kid said CP had been a challenge when it came to pursuing swimming but “it’s just about working around it”.

“We all have our own limitations,” he said.

“I’ve learned to compensate through my upper body, with the lack of propulsion my legs can create, so it was just about changing my stroke around my upper body, which is a constant thing with maximising my grip on the water.”

The Marmion resident said his biggest swimming achievement was winning two gold medals during his final year of high school last year – one medal for the Australian 34 point men’s relay team and another for the S8 100m freestyle.

Popham’s freestyle time of 59.33 saw him shoot to the number one ranking in the world at the 2018 Pan Pacs Para Swimming Championships in Cairns, but he finished the year as number two, only .2 of a point behind China’s Haijiao Xu.

“When I swam my event in August last year, it was the fastest time recorded in a year, but during the Asian games someone beat me – now I just have to chase after number one,” he said.

“It was my first international event, which had competitors from the US, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Japan, and I got a taste of the level required to succeed.”

Popham’s future looks bright, and he is set to start his Bachelor of Commerce studies at Curtin University while also working towards his goal of one day competing in the Paralympics.

“Paralympics has always been the goal, but I definitely want to train towards it and get enough international race practice as possible to compete at that level and then we will see if I can compete at Tokyo or not,” he said.

Popham hopes to fly to Adelaide in April this year and participate in the 2019 Hancock Prospecting Australian Swimming Championships to complete trials for the Para World Championships, as well as compete in the World Para Swimming Championships 2019 from July in Kuching.

WA Sports Star Award winners will be announced on Thursday, February 7.