SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. — At the Bassmaster Classic, mention the name Chase Heaton, and the person you’re talking to is likely to tell you they know, or they’ve met, or they’ve heard about, this remarkable young man from Spokane, Wash.
Eighteen years old, tall and wearing a tournament jersey and Triton cap, Heaton looks like many other young men attending the Classic. He is, but then again, he isn’t. Diagnosed in October with stage 2B Hodgkin's lymphoma, Heaton is fighting cancer. He’s been through nine of 12 to 16 chemotherapy treatments, one every two weeks. He was between treatments when he traveled to Louisiana to experience the Classic for the first time.
One thing that makes people remember meeting Heaton is his positive attitude. He has refused to let cancer scare him, and he is a quiet fighter. He’s only partially through treatment, but his latest tests show that 90 percent of the cancer is gone.
“It’s what they expected, so it’s good news,” he said.
The other thing about Heaton that strikes people is his passion for bass fishing. He’s the 2010 and 2011 Washington state champion in the Junior Bassmaster program. He runs a Triton-Mercury rig wrapped by sponsor Nixon’s Marine. When he’s not in school, he works for the Northwest Bass circuit of tournaments — and in the fishing department of a major outdoor retailer. He’s an honor student, on track to graduate this spring and attend college in the fall.
Heaton got to the Classic thanks to the help of many friends and strangers. At home in Washington, his desire to see a Classic in person got out among B.A.S.S. Federation Nation members and snowballed from there. Then Gary Stiles of Northwest Bass sent out an email with a request for support of “Chasing the Cure” that went viral within the fishing community. Soon the Heatons were receiving donations from across the country from people they did not even know.
When B.A.S.S. offered Heaton the red-carpet treatment, Heaton’s dream trip got even closer to reality.
“We got an email from B.A.S.S. that said, ‘You get him here, we’ll take care of him from there,’” said Chase’s father, who made the trip with his son.
“The response was so amazing, we don’t even know how many people sent us contributions, but we know many were from people we’ve never met,” said Chase. “For instance, Chris Lambert of Wave Away Products started a raffle that turned nationwide. The list is long — I wish I could name every person who donated a check to me.”
From the time he first tossed lures off a dock as a small kid, Heaton has wished he could attend the Classic. His expectations are being met.
“I love seeing and meeting the people here, the friendliness of them, the fact that it is the place to be if you are a bass fisherman — all those reasons and more are why I love being here,” he said.
Some day he wants to be a competitor. Meanwhile, he’s got two missions: Beat the cancer, and help people realize that cancer should not be feared, that it can be cured.
“If you keep a positive attitude, that’s how you beat it,” he said.