by Hans Kayser
“1 st place.”
I said it so much that it became somewhat of a mantra in the weeks and months leading up to the event.
“I wouldn’t be so cocky,” Kipp would reply, with a calm demeanor and stoic expression that should have signaled to me that I was definitely overconfident with my claim.
I would say it again with even more exuberance (and frankly, naivety) after Kipp’s objection.
I thought to myself, ”there is no way that we would not win a 3-on-3 wheelchair basketball tournament in Hobbs, New Mexico.” First of all, we have a Guinness World Record shooter on our team, we’ve been training together for about a year and a half, mano a mano, for 6 to 9 hours per week, and (what I thought to be) our toughest competition was going to be playing in an out-of-state tournament scheduled for the same weekend as our event.
That is what I thought … and boy was I wrong!
I overlooked the fact that there are so many incredible adaptive sports athletes! I didn’t consider the fact that these athletes have been playing wheelchair basketball at such a high level, for much longer than myself, and they have team chemistry and court time together that can only be developed through years of experience with one another other. I thought I had built the callouses and endurance to keep my energy up with anyone we would cross paths with.
That’s not what happened.
My family and I drove to Hobbs from our home in Rio Rancho. It’s an impossibly boring 5-hour drive of non-scenic highway, with the exception of Roswell, which is about 1 hour from Hobbs. Roswell, of course, is home to the most famous UFO crash-landing in recorded history, so we had to stop at the McDonald’s to play inside the flying saucer jungle gym and grab a few souvenirs.
My son is 9 so his eyes were wide-open for this juncture of the road trip, soaking up all of the makeshift aliens that are scattered around town. I was looking forward to showing off in front of him and my wife for the chairball tournament, and inevitably hoisting a first place trophy and snapping a picture with an oversized game check.
We roll into Hobbs later that evening, about 9 PM. One building in particular catches my attention from the side of the road, but it’s so dark that I can’t quite tell what it is. The tournament starts relatively early the next morning, and after a long drive, the three of us just wanted to grab a bite to eat and head to bed.
The day of the event comes quickly as expected. Having snoozed my alarm 3 or 4 times, I finally peeled myself out of bed, and after a short breakfast, we made our way to the facility where the tournament was scheduled.
Turns out the tournament was at the CORE Center of Recreational Excellence, and it happened to be the same building that stood out from the rest on the side of the road! The facility is truly amazing! It houses an astroturf soccer field, several basketball courts, a 3-story play place, top-notch gym equipment, and an indoor water park complete with several water slides and a lazy river. It was truly one of the best athletic facilities I have ever seen and I couldn’t believe it was in a
small town like Hobbs, NM. It’s no wonder why they regularly compete for state titles at the high school level!
We register for the tournament and get our swag bag complete with a nice t shirt, water bottle, and official Molten basketball. Seriously the swag bag was incredible too!
The tournament was brilliantly organized and everything was on schedule to the tee. Our team, the Road Runners, started off with a win in pool play, followed by a close loss to a team from San Antonio. Right then I realized that Kipp was right all along, we were in some trouble and were definitely not the team with the most talent. That said, we rattled off consecutive wins for the rest of pool play, securing the #2 seed for bracket play.
Lunch vouchers for food trucks were provided by the organizers of the event, and I chowed down on delicious pizza, empanadas, and plantains before bracket play starts. Again, a big shoutout to everyone involved in making the event happen!
It’s a double-elimination tournament and we won our first game, but lost our second game to a team that eventually played in the finals against the team from San Antonio.
After one win in the losers bracket, then another loss, we were eliminated from the tournament and took 4th overall, a far cry from the 1st place I was so convinced we were destined to secure. In the cruelest form of poetic justice, I also missed a game-tying buzzer beater that could have sent us to overtime, but you make some you miss some, ya know?
I unstrapped from my chair after a long day of games, soaking wet with sweat and with blisters on every finger on both hands. If you haven’t played wheelchair basketball before, it’s hard to imagine the physical punishment that a full day of nonstop games will do to your body. Here I am thinking I am in shape, and the players on other teams are literally driving circles around me and getting wide open shots all day. Adaptive sports athletes are true warriors out there!
Even though we lost, I am so happy to have gone to the event! I met so many amazing people from all walks of life, all eager to advance wheelchair basketball, promote adaptive sports, and to create more opportunities for anyone with a physical limitation.
These ego-crushing losses were a testament to how much harder I need to train with Kipp if we want to have any shot of taking 1st in future events, and trust me, we are back in the lab putting in work.
You can bet that I won’t be jinxing myself by saying “1st place” anymore.