The Runner Spotlight: Mikayla Popham


Mari Woodmansee

Freshman Mikayla Popham dives to start out meet against UC Santa Cruz on Saturday Jan 11.

Mari Woodmansee, Photo Editor

 Mikayla Popham is a freshman and CSU Bakersfield international student who was born and raised in Sunshine Coast, Australia. Growing up there the beach was literally in her back yard, so she picked up surfing.  

  “Back home I definitely liked surfing a lot. That was my escape and just being by the beach,” Popham said.  

  Recently named Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year, Popham won the 200 and 500 free-stroke events during the WAC Championship in Houston, TX, and had a hand in three of the team’s six titles.  

  This summer, Popham has a chance to compete in the Australian Olympic Trials. She feels like this will be a great experience because she has the opportunity to race against people who have competed in the Olympics.  

  “It means a lot to get to that level as well. I guess it is what everyone who is an athlete kind of shoots for that,” Popham said. 

  Popham started swimming competitively because of her older sister Sophie, who is also a competitive swimmer. While her sister was swimming, there was competitiveness between them. They swam different strokes, but were always pushing each other to do better. Since Popham’s sister quit swimming in high school, she’s been nothing but supportive of her younger sister.  

  “We only really had club teams. We didn’t have the high school swimming, so we didn’t really have that team aspect. It was definitely more of an individual sport, where at CSUB it’s all for the team,” Popham said. 

  To continue swimming competitively, Popham had to search for a university that offered swimming at the collegiate level.  

  “Back home, it’s kind of different the way swimming works. Once you finish high school, there is a massive drop off in the sport. People move on to university, but don’t have the college sport,” Popham explained. She chose to come to America due to her friend’s recommendations after they came here for the same reason. 

  In her search for colleges in America, she found CSUB. Popham was able to speak to the coaches beforehand, making her decision an easy one.  

  “Bakersfield for me really stood out. I didn’t have a recruit trip like most people, but I FaceTimed the coaches. Talking to them made it seem so much easier, because I felt most connected to them.”  

  During her FaceTime calls, she was also able to talk to some of the swimmers on the team. This helped Popham connect to them before coming to CSUB. 

  While education and swimming were her top priorities for coming to America, and the coaching staff and team members were prominent in choosing CSUB, California was a big draw-in for the Australian-native, because the weather is very similar to back home 

  Even though the weather is similar, she came across a major difference after moving to California, which was she had never seen squirrels before. “That still amazes me the squirrels because we didn’t have squirrels back home, and so when we first came here every time I saw a squirrel it was the funniest thing, because I had only ever seen them on cartoons,” Popham said. 

  Even though she is far away from home, she has a great support system from her parents and her sister. “Back home, I was really close with my family. Family is a massive thing for me, and I love them to bits.” Popham’s mom even woke up at one in the morning Australia time to watch the live stream of the WAC in Houston just so she could see her daughter compete.  

  “Definitely having that support system is a really big thing and helps a lot,” Popham said. 

  Popham has found a huge support system here as well, something that Popham claims has made her time away from home much easier on her. “This team is like one big family, so it’s kind of a family away from family for me.”  

  Popham and her team are headed to Cleveland, OH for the National Invitational Championship from Mar. 11-14. She is looking forward to competing in the Nationals, especially to improve her 500-meter freestyle.  

  For next season, she is looking forward to getting her 500-meter freestyle under the four minute and fifty second time, and to break the school record for the 200-meter freestyle, which she almost accomplished during the WAC Championship.