Written by Robert Thorpe
Alix Popham has spent his life involved within sport. From the age of 4 years old, this quiet giant of a man from Wales has been playing rugby, cycling, competing in triathlon and just about any other sport along the way. He’s a born athlete, with that in-built desire to challenge himself, to compete and to win. It’s a mentality that’s taken him to the very top of his sport, captaining the Wales U23 team, representing Wales internationally at 2 Rugby World Cups, and playing rugby for French club, Brive, where he finished his playing career.
EARLY ONSET DEMENTIA
However, along with many hundreds of former rugby players, Alix is now carrying the hidden wounds of playing rugby at such a level and in such a powerful manner. In April 2020, he was diagnosed with early onset dementia; doctors estimated his brain had suffered up to 100,000 sub-concussions over the course of his 14-year professional career. Now, along with former playing colleagues and friends, he’s determined to focus attention on the issue of head injuries in sport, using cycling as a means to promote his work and to bring something positive to the issue for those suffering. Talking with Alix, he says that he first noticed the symptoms in 2019; short-term memory loss, making wrong payments, losing his train of thought in conversations, and things becoming overwhelming at times. Cycling he says, has been central to him dealing with the diagnosis, and through the ‘Head for Change’ charity, he’s hoping to bring the issue to a wider audience.
CYCLING CHALLENGES & HEAD FOR CHANGE
When Alix retired from playing aged 31, due to other physical injuries, having won the Grand Slam title in 20011, he organised a cycling ride for the charity, MenCap, all the way from Wales, back to Brive and the famed ‘Battle of Brive rugby game between the French club and Welsh club, Pontypridd. Since that time, and since his diagnosis in particular, his cycling challenges have gone from strength to strength. He’s cycled the ‘Ride Across America’ in teams 3 times, ridden the ‘Ride for Doddy’ (Doddy Weir - Scottish rugby legend, recently passed away due to MND), and organised the ‘Rugby Wide Cycling Challenge’ on Zwift during the covid pandemic. Through his cycling challenges and being Welsh, he’s also roped in legendary fellow Welsh sports personality, cyclist and Tour de France winner, Geraint Thomas, after meeting him at a dinner in 2011. Geraint is now an ambassador for the ‘Head for Change’ charity that Alix set up, and will be joining Alix on a ride between Wales and Lyon in France, later this year, arriving in time for the international match between Wales and Australia.
Lake CX 146 & Lake CX 219 Road Cycling Shoes
Alix is currently training for another, earlier multi-day cycling challenge, that he and 15 other former players are taking on in February, when they’ll cycle from the National Stadium in Cardiff, all the way across the U.K. to Edinburgh. He’s been putting the miles in on his Orbea sponsored road bike, and wearing his Lake Cycling CX 146 winter cycling boots, making sure that his feet and ultra-comfortable and ultra-warm. And, for those days on indoor trainers and when the sun shines, Alix is using the Lake Cycling CX 219 road cycling shoes, which he describes as being “like slippers, so that I don’t know I’m wearing them.”
After a lifetime in elite level sport, Alix knows exactly when kit is good; and having his feet wrapped in Lake comfort and performance is just what’s needed when you’ve got a long challenge ahead. Alix has overcome many things in life and now has the greatest challenge of all facing him - how to deal with dementia at such a young age, and with a young family. However, if this amazing athlete has shown anything, it’s a will to succeed that will never give up, and we’re proud at Lake Cycling to be supporting him on his cycling journeys, as he heads positively into a challenging future.