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Rolling to a world record

Fifteen feet away, 10 feet up.

Not a long distance, but it took two years for Kipp Watson to successfully make the journey and another year to have it recognized.

Earlier this month, Watson, 69, of Rio Rancho, got confirmation from the folks at Guinness World Records that he is now the official world title holder for the most consecutive baskets made with a basketball from the foul line while sitting in a wheelchair.

“I was relieved, more than anything,” he said, noting that the initial excitement has long faded since July 29, 2019, when he sank 12 baskets in a row at the McDermott Athletic Center in Rio Rancho.

Kipp Watson, in his Rio Rancho home office, shows off the basketball he used to break the Guinness World Record for most consecutive free throws from the foul line while sitting in a wheelchair.

“I was in the zone. I was like a mechanical horse. Focused. And when I hit 12, I didn’t even know it,” Watson said.

That determined concentration of task, and the joy after being told he succeeded is readily apparent in a video that captured the event and can be seen at ABQJournal.com.

Watson’s first shot at the world title was in 2017, but he was only able to tie the record of 11 set in 2013 by Jeff Walker of Missouri. For various technical rule reasons, Guinness declined to certify the tie.

Watson, who founded, coaches and plays on the Rio Rancho Road Runners wheelchair basketball team, continued to practice his free throws from the foul line and last July broke the record in the presence of a referee and witnesses.

Then came the waiting – a full year until Guinness contacted him and certified him as the new world record holder. The news, he said, “leaves me with a deep degree of satisfaction.”

Born in Los Angeles, Watson was 9 months old in 1951 when he contracted polio, “which severely limited the use of my legs and lower back,” he said. The family later moved to New York, where at age 15 Watson attended Camp Jened, a well-known summer camp for people with disabilities, and where he was introduced to both wheelchairs and wheelchair basketball.

“Most of my life, I ambulated with the use of braces and crutches, so that was my first real experience with a wheelchair,” he recalled. “At the time, the wheelchairs used in basketball were basically the same kind used in hospitals. There were no advanced sports chairs like what we use now.”

He said that the game, though enjoyable, “was not an immediate love and did not really grab me when I first started playing.” That occurred some years later when he began playing regularly on the Brooklyn Whirlaways wheelchair basketball team in 1971, followed by stints with other teams.

Watson attended the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law and had a successful career as a civil rights and disability rights lawyer. “I organized the first Disability Independence Day march in New York City in 1991,” he said.

Kipp Watson sets up a shot during a little one-on-one at Haynes Park in Rio Rancho, where he was giving pointers to Ray Farmer, who is learning to play wheelchair basketball.

Watson retired from law in 2005 and became a financial adviser, a bitcoin consultant and a web designer.

He and his wife of 42 years, Emily Watson, a retired speech language pathologist, moved to Rio Rancho in 2011 “because we like the sun and dry weather and thought the climate was better for health reasons,” he said.

Initially, Watson played wheelchair basketball with the Albuquerque Kings but left in 2017 to concentrate on developing the Rio Rancho Road Runners, with the long-term goal of creating a league that better promotes the sport of wheelchair basketball by allowing people with disabilities and those without disabilities to mix on the same teams.

Another goal, he said, is to push the University of New Mexico to have a wheelchair basketball team for its students.

Kipp Watson during his second attempt to break a Guinness World Record, on July 29, 2019, at the McDermott Athletic Center in Rio Rancho. (Courtesy of Kipp Watson)

In the meantime, Watson said, he hopes to hold on to his title for a while as he promotes wheelchair basketball. But he has no intention of resting on his laurels.

“If this coronavirus thing settles down and the gyms reopen in the next three months, I think I can get back to where I was in about six months,” Watson said. “And then I’ll try to break my own record.”

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