RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Rio Rancho can claim a Olympic bronze-medal winner, a World Series champion, two NCAA softball champions and a Super Bowl champion, and now the City of Vision can claim a Guinness World Record-holder among its residents.
Wheelchair-bound Kipp Watson, 69, set the new mark — 12 consecutive free throws made from a wheelchair — on July 29, 2019, at The MAC on Loma Colorado Blvd., with many of his shots being of the “nothing-but-net” variety, before his 13th attempt ringed around and off the iron. (You can see it on YouTube.)
“I don’t know how many misses or hits I had before the streak (began),” Watson said. “I do know that when it comes to getting a new world record, it is quite important to get the misses over and done with.”
The previous consecutive free-throw record had stood for six years; Watson tied the previous record of 11 in Sept. 2017.
An attorney for 21 years and a resident of Rio Rancho since 2011, Watson is understandably quite proud of his world record, which was confirmed when he received an email from the Guinness people: “We are thrilled to inform you that your application for most consecutive free throws from a wheelchair has been successful and you are now the Guinness World Records Title Holder! You are now eligible for one complimentary Guinness World Records certificate.”
“To put some perspective on the nature of my achievement, think about whether a full-body, half-court shot is about as difficult as shooting from the foul line without any use of lower body propulsion,” Watson explained. “If you regard this as being comparably difficult, then you should be interested in learning that my streak is twice as long as the current Guinness record for half-court shots.”
It’s his first Guinness record, but maybe not the last: “I am thinking of going for a wheelchair ‘skating’ short-distance-sprint world record,” he said. “Basically the idea is to get from one side of the basketball court to the other side as quickly as possible, without touching the wheel on one’s wheelchair.”
As happy as he is about his record, he’s equally unhappy about what COVID-19 has meant to his Rio Rancho Road Runners wheelchair basketball team. He previously played for the Albuquerque Kings, and in the 1970s, was with the Brooklyn Whirlaways wheelchair team; he is hopeful of someday seeing a Professional Wheelchair Basketball League having a Rio Rancho presence.
That league may have hit a bump; after an online story proclaimed “The PWBL will introduce at least 8 new franchise teams in the year 2017 with at least 8 more teams in the coming years,” there is nothing newer. The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) has over 200 teams in eight divisions, and has been around since its first championship tournament in 1948.
“Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, and its related closures of gyms and parks, Rio Rancho Road Runners’ activity has been very limited,” he said. “(But) on July 16, six Road Runners competed in a 2v2 low-intensity scrimmage at Mountain View Community Center in Albuquerque. Six players were there, who alternated play on the floor.”
Watson arranged to get video and interviews for the purpose of educating grade-schoolers via Zoom about wheelchair basketball.
“That was a very enjoyable day for me, even though we had to tone down the intensity of play due to the requirement (that) we wear masks,” Watson said. “If it were not for the pandemic, we would most likely have continued with our promotion of wheelchair basketball, just as we have in the past with hosted scrimmages, free lessons and public events held jointly with community organizations.
“Just before the pandemic struck, I had scheduled a meeting with Larry Chavez (Rio Rancho Public Schools’ athletic director) with the agenda being a discussion of our working together to promote a system-wide wheelchair basketball league. For reasons that are understandable, but still frustrating, these talks had to be postponed for safety reasons and are on hold for now.
“Based on the (recent) turnout we had, I would say we have succeeded in recruiting the players we need for a team that can function, once the pandemic is over,” Watson said, a devotee of wheelchair basketball for about a half-century.
“My life was blessed when I first learned about the sport of wheelchair basketball as a teenager,” he said. “It has motivated me to spend a lifetime learning about myself and what I am capable of achieving, not only physically, but also emotionally and mentally. … Wheelchair basketball is more than overcoming physical obstacles — it can and should be used to knock down attitudinal barriers between people, too.
“When people learn that I have little or no propulsion capability from my legs and lower back due to poliomyelitis — but that this did not prevent me from competing in a category open to anyone in the world.
“I want them also to learn that almost all opinions we have about our physical and attitudinal limitations are illusory, stemming from the ridiculous notion of a ‘normal’ person.”
For more information on wheelchair basketball, you can reach Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org.