by Moira Cullings
TOPEKA — Fishing has tested the patience and faith of fishermen for thousands of years.
It’s no wonder Jesus used it to teach the world so many important lessons.
Taking a small boat out to sea, a place full of danger and uncertainty, provided Jesus with an opportunity to test the trust of his disciples.
Although these lessons were often symbolic, fishermen today are often challenged in ways similar to what the disciples faced more than 2,000 years ago.
While many still fish for their dinner or their living, fishing in the United States has evolved into a competitive sport made unique by the skills — patience and faith — it requires for one to excel.
Thomas Heinen, a sophomore at Hayden High School in Topeka, has the talent and drive, along with a little inspiration from above, to put Jesus’ lessons to use.
His interest in fishing was sparked when he was only a toddler.
“When I was about 3 years old, we went camping and fishing as a family thing, and I just started liking fishing,” said Heinen. “I just kept asking my dad to go out more often. We used to go to nearby lakes and ponds to fish, and it just stuck with me.”
Heinen’s interest grew into a passion, and he began competing around the age of 10.
Since then, Heinen has become an impressive contender, averaging second place in the 10 BASS tournaments he competed in during the 2015 season.
“I kind of get inspired by St. Andrew. He’s the patron saint of fishing, and that was my confirmation saint. I say a prayer to him [before competitions],” said Heinen.
The night before each tournament, Heinen asks God “that the fishing day goes well.”
A little bit of faith and a lot of practice have carried Heinen a long way.
His greatest accomplish so far was winning the state championship with his partner Brock Bila and boat captain Larry Brumley.
“I’ve always been chasing that dream — just chasing the state championship for the youth division,” he said.
Heinen reached that goal and more. In 2014, Heinen won a partner tournament by himself.
“My partner said he couldn’t show up to that tournament,” he said. “So, I had to fish it by myself, and I won that tournament. All the other kids had all the advantage and everything, so I was pretty proud of that moment.”
Heinen’s abilities are accompanied by strong Catholic values.
“My dad has always taught me to congratulate the winners and even congratulate the losers,” he said. His humility and good sportsmanship set the tone for how he handles a win or a loss.
Heinen said he plans to compete “until I can’t anymore,” striving to fish collegiately and, ultimately, at a professional level.
When he eventually stops competing, Heinen hopes he will have “helped people understand that the outdoors is good — and to enjoy the wildlife out there, because you’ll see some pretty cool things on the water.
“It’s just fun to get out and go fishing,” he added.