SINCE HE WAS little, Christian Leithner has always wanted to go fishing. He’s mostly self-taught because his family doesn’t fish, but he has natural talent for it.
He also has testicular cancer. He has gone through months of chemotherapy since the cancer spread and he will have to have surgery on Aug. 26.
“Which happens to be my birthday. I’ll be turning 19 then and I’m going in for a six- to eight-hour surgery,” he said.
The cancer and his love for fishing brought him some new friends, among them professional angler Fred “Boom Boom” Roumbanis, of Bixby. Thursday morning Leithner hooked up with the pro at Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow.
He took the driver’s seat in Roumbanis’ boat (in the parking lot) and learned about all of the high-tech gadgets. They fished the ponds outside the shop and lost count of how many bass he caught and released. He was treated to lunch with the pro and Roumbanis helped him pick out a sweet new CarbonLite spinning rod-and-reel combo courtesy of Bass Pro.
Leithner’s father, Andy, doesn’t fish at all, so he learned a few things on the day, as well. He said he doesn’t know where Leithner’s desire to fish came from, but it’s always been there.
“When he was a little kid that’s always what he wanted to do,” Andy Leithner said. “We would go to the lake and I’d want to get on a boat and he would want to go fishing. It’s just one of those things I never had an inkling to do.”
Christian said fishing relaxes him. He walks to the Arkansas River from his home and casts a line whenever he has a chance.
After Roumbanis and Leithner picked out the new combo, the Bass Pro staff spooled the reel, Roumbanis rigged it with a drop-shot setup at his boat and Leithner walked the shoreline, sight-fishing for just the right spot to make a cast.
Roumbanis had taught him not to cast right at the fish and how to jiggle the artificial worm with the drop-shot setup. He caught a bass on his sweet new super-lightweight rig on about his third or fourth cast.
Leithner just smiled and held up the fish for a photo and then let it go – natural as can be.
“This is such a neat deal, and I get to make a new friend,” said Roumbanis, whose father has been fighting cancer for two years.
“It’s a fight and I’m all about fighters,” he said. “If there’s any way I can help, I’m there.”
The pair worked the ponds and equipment aisles while decked out in Real Men Wear Pink T-shirts from the Turn Tulsa Pink campaign. The charity is all about making things a little easier for those with cancer, and the Real Men campaign aims to raise awareness that the program is there for all genders, said Tulsa Pink committee member Lisa Bain.
Bain and her bulldog, Mavis Pearl, a certified therapy dog, are celebrities around the hospitals and cancer wards. She is the one behind the fishing friendship.
Bain’s mother has ovarian cancer and Bain often meets others with cancer when she accompanies her mother for chemotherapy treatments. She met Leithner a few months ago.
“He was sitting there with his teeth chattering. I could tell it was his first time. We just talked about the things he likes,” she said.
When she found out Leithner loved fishing she called Roumbanis. “Fred signed a shirt and a hat for him. I took it to him one day and he lit up like a Christmas tree,” she said.
Leithner has an official Roumbanis jersey and a pile of other cool Boom Boom stuff, but the pair had yet to meet.
“I called Fred and Bass Pro and the whole thing was set up in maybe 30 minutes,” Bain said. “So many people have been touched by cancer and so many people care so deeply and are so willing to give.”
“This is my best day of the summer,” Leithner said. But this outing and coaching from Boom Boom was just a good warm-up. Bain made some other calls and soon the whole Leithner family will be headed to Panama City, Fla., courtesy of a group called Random Acts of Purpose.
A woman in Florida set the family up with a seaside condo, and a group of people there plan to give the family a vacation of a lifetime. Leithner said he is looking forward to going on a deep-sea fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico.
Andy Leithner said the day at Bass Pro offered a break from the regular routine. “It can give you relaxation when you’re under a lot of stress,” he said.
He has been “blown away” by the outreach from Turn Tulsa Pink, he said. A few months ago he didn’t know who Fred Roumbanis was, and he didn’t know anything about professional fishing, but every time his son came home from chemotherapy treatments he had another hat, poster, photo or T-shirt.
“I thought, ‘What is this all about?’ This is, wow, this is giving hope,” he said.
Read Kelly Bostian’s blog at tulsaworld.com/kellybostian
Real Men Wear Pink
Turn Tulsa Pink’s latest campaign, Real Men Wear Pink, strives to spread the word that pink isn’t just for women and isn’t just for breast cancer.
Learn more at tulsaworld.com/turntulsapink The group also gets a $1 donation for every new “like” on the Facebook page at tulsaworld.com/pinkmen