February 28, 2023 at 3:42 p.m.

Wild wish

Wild wish
Wild wish

By Evan Michealson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Holdingford’s Popp receives incredible experience through Make-A-Wish

From an outside glance, Trista Popp is your prototypical three-sport high school athlete.

The senior is a captain and one of the sparkplugs of the 20-win Holdingford Huskers girls basketball team, a reliable back-row performer for the volleyball team and a strong hitter and fielder for the softball squad. Along with her formidability in whatever activity she plays in, she is well-regarded amongst her peers as a humble, selfless leader who always looks out for her teammates.

Hidden through this energetic, lively exterior is something Popp has battled with for most of her life: cystic fibrosis, a rare genetic disorder that affects lung health and digestion, among other symptoms.

Popp’s lifelong, arduous battle against CF received a sharp, upward turning point in recent months. Three months after completing her highest pulmonary function test, the longtime Minnesota Wild fan received the gift of a lifetime from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Holdingford resident went through a whirlwind pair of days with the Wild Feb. 10-11.

“It was a lot more than I could have even thought to ask for,” Trista said. “A lot of fun experiences.”

This experience of a lifetime began in March, when Popp applied to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The Wild were always her first wish. When going through her various treatments, a remedy to the constant barrage of difficulties was watching her favorite hockey team. There, Popp found two-to-three-hour escapes from CF and the worries it presented. However, setting up a Make-A-Wish series of dates with the organization was originally unavailable, as the Wild had not done such visits with COVID-19 presenting an additional risk. 

So, it came as a surprise to the joyous Popp when her family and Make-A-Wish volunteer Kim Sunde gave her a special surprise Feb. 9 at the Holdingford girls basketball game against Kimball. For Senior Night, the team’s upperclassman answered questions before ripping off slips of paper on a giant poster of a ticket, and when it got to Trista’s turn, she was asked, “What’s your favorite team?” This led to the big reveal. Trista’s wish was finally being granted, after months of secret preparation by her parents.

“In August, we actually got an email from Make-A-Wish stating she needed to pick out games she would like to attend and get her list,” said Tracey Popp, Trista’s mother. “So, we had to do a little fib. I printed off the schedule, and she went through the games she wanted to go to.”

The resulting endeavor was beyond anything Trista could have ever planned herself. She went on a shopping spree at the Minnesota Wild Hockey Lodge with Wild mascot Nordy, sat ice-side to watch warmups from the Wild bench and received a signed Kirill Kaprizov jersey after meeting Kaprizov and many of the players, along with Wild general manager Bill Guerin. She even took advantage of opportunities to ask the players the hard-hitting questions, from “What’s your favorite Disney princess?” to “Who is the mom and dad of the team?” 

“It was just amazing how nice and caring everyone was and how sweet they were with my sister,” said Taylor Popp, Trista’s sister. “She got to live out her dream and it was definitely a weekend none of us will forget.”

Having an up-close, personal look at some of her hockey heroes was a unique, unparalleled experience for a central Minnesota high schooler who has wanted, more than anything, to simply be just like everyone else. 

“I was scared to do my treatments around other people because I didn’t want to be treated differently than others,” Trista said. “I just wanted to be normal; that’s what my main goal was. So, I just stayed in a little bubble.”

Dealing with CF is often time-consuming and exhausting. Due to CF causing mucus buildup in the lungs, pancreas and other organs, Trista’s day consists of taking enzymes before eating food to assist with digestion, and for most of her life, she has required nebulized medications through a breathing machine and has worn a high-frequency vest designed to unclog the mucus in her body.

“What I thought was bad, it could be mowing your grass, your car might be dirty, it made you reshuffle the blocks when you stack them,” said Dean Popp, Trista’s dad. “It’s hard to wake up in the morning and feel sorry for yourself, when she’s got a lot more on her plate.”

Eventually, Trista’s fight extended beyond the walls of the Popp household. As she got older, her treatments became less hidden as those she knew began to understand her condition. Her teammates, to the family’s gratitude, embraced their role as a member of a large-scale support system, reminding their friend to take her medications and making sure she remains cared for through her challenges against CF. Additionally, the CF staff at the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital have continued to play a pivotal part of Trista’s recovery process since that first visit over a decade ago. 

“The doctors we’ve been blessed with from day one to now, they are unreal,” Dean said. “She sees them every few months. They’re like family.”

Trista’s CF status remains on the upswing. She has not needed the vest or nebulized medications since June, and with her latest PFT result providing more optimism, the Make-A-Wish trip served as not only the granting of a long-desired wish, but a way to celebrate her improved condition with those she loves.

“That’s why she wanted that type of wish: to bring her family and friends, that had been part of her journey for so long, as kind of a thank-you,” Tracey said. “

The hard days have not made Trista any less vigilant or determined to accomplish her goals. She and the Huskers girls hoops team are in the midst of a history season and possess a top-three seed in the Section 6AA playoffs, with the spring softball season not far away either. Not even a rare disorder can slow down Trista Popp from being the athlete and leader she wants to be. 

“It just helps mentally, being able to push through this, because I can do it and I know I can,” she said. “I don’t want to stop.”


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