November 22, 2011

Skies are clearing for young fan

November 22, 2011 2:31 PM

Christopher Roteman shrugged at the storm that was threatening Harder Stadium Sunday as he arrived for UCSB's NCAA soccer playoff match.

The 12-year-old Goleta boy has been threatened by worse.

Roteman was receiving chemotherapy for a serious auto-immune disorder at UCLA Medical Center the last time it rained on UCSB's NCAA playoff parade in 2008.

"He was begging the doctors to make it go faster so he could get to the game," recalled his mother, Denise. "I remember that it was pouring rain on our way up."

The Gauchos slipped up in double-overtime to Cal that night, 3-2, but their No. 1 fan would be back.

"I'm going to go college here," he said, matter-of-factly, "and I'm going to do my best to be on the soccer team, too."

A long shot, perhaps. But then, so were the ones that Christopher put on frame last month to finish second in the state for his age division at the Elks Club Soccer Shootout in Carmichael.

He'd won the Regional competition held earlier in San Luis Obispo, drawing cheers from stunned on-lookers.

"Everyone was going, 'You're on a roll! You've got it now!'" he recalled. "I thought they were going to jinx it."

His score would've even won the 14-and-under division.

"I love soccer," said Christopher, the youngest of Andrew and Denise Roteman's four children. "I was practicing even when I was sick. I was kicking a rubber ball or something that wouldn't hurt my feet when they were swollen."

"It's a little hard to hold him back," his mother said.

Even when HSP — Henoch-Schonlein Purpura — was wreaking havoc to his vascular system.

"When we first found out what was going on in October of 2008, they said he'd be out for four-to-six weeks," Denise said. "He was right in the middle of soccer season, and he was about ready to compete in gymnastics, so for him that was devastating.

"Very rarely, HSP will progress and attack the kidneys — and that's what happened to him."

Christopher, now a seventh-grader at Goleta Valley Junior High, had to curtail any physical activity for more than nine months. He still took a part that winter in the Granada Theater's production of "A Christmas Carol," having auditioned before taking ill.

"He was in the hospital when they called and said, 'We want to offer you Tiny Tim,'" Denise recalled. "We're like, 'Well, he's supposed to get better, so OK.'

"But he was in and out, in and out, in and out of the hospital. He had chemo on the 25th of November, and rehearsal started the next day."

The makeup artists had to add color to Christopher's cheeks, since he was too pale to even play the sickly Tiny Tim.

"Doing that was actually good for him, because he couldn't do anything else, and it wasn't physical," his mother said. "For him, emotionally, it was a really good thing."

He wound up donating his earnings from the play to buy a game for the Pediatrics Ward at Cottage Hospital.

Christopher also volunteered as a judge for Cupcake Camp, which serves as a fund-raiser for Cupcakes for Cancer.

"It was pretty fun, and I did it this year, too," he said. "I like doing stuff like that because it kind of reminds me ... I know what they've been through.

"My cleats, they're pink on the bottom. The cleats I wore before that, they had pink shoelaces."

Christopher finally got off his medication in the spring of 2010 and was soon back on the soccer field as a center midfielder.

He had played for the Santa Barbara Soccer Club before getting sick, but it took awhile before he was strong enough to make the AYSO U12 All-Star team this fall.

"I wasn't very good last year," Christopher said.

"He kept getting hurt when he came back," his mother said. "He's not a big guy to begin with, and all that muscle mass was gone. Plus he's growing, so every time he'd twist his ankle."

He worked hard to get back into shape, training once a week with Dr. Kevin Fisher, a chiropractor and championship power lifter.

Sam Garza, the Gauchos' star junior forward, has been working with him on his soccer skills.

"Soccer was my motivation through all this, definitely," Christopher said. "It was just too hard for me to sit and not play."

His parents started bringing him to Gaucho games when he was a toddler.

"He'd go down to the bottom of the stands and kick a ball into the fence," his mother recalled.

Christopher was paying closer attention to the games during UCSB's NCAA championship run of 2006.

"He'd go to the Gaucho camps, and his personality is such that he'd eat lunch with the Gauchos instead of the other kids," Denise said. "I remember Andy Iro throwing him in the trash one time."

"It was the recycling bin, actually," Christopher interjected with a chuckle. "All I did was take his Cheeto!"

UCSB stars Chris Pontius, Alfonso Motagalvan and Tony Chinakwe showed up for his eighth birthday, before he came down with HSP. And when the UCLA Medical Center became his home away from home, former Gauchos such as Neil Jones and Danny Kennedy became regular visitors.

"He used to have the Gauchos autograph his stomach after the games," Denise said. "He felt the signatures gave him power for his own games.

"When he'd go to the hospital, it was amusing to watch the expressions of the doctors and nurses when they would see his belly for the first time."

UCSB celebrated the fifth anniversary of its NCAA championship season several weeks ago, with nearly all of the 2006 Gauchos returning. Christopher wound up on the field with them.

"We were in the stands, and we were wondering, 'Where is he now?'" Denise said. "Then we saw: 'Oh! They just threw him up into the air.'"

On Sunday, Christopher spotted former Gauchos Peter McGlynn, Michael Boxall, Martin Hedevag and Jon Zerah in the stands and soon joined them, enjoying the warmth of an otherwise cold and damp evening.

"I feel great," he said, celebrating UCSB's 3-2 win over Providence. "I feel like my old self again."

When the match ended, he ran onto the field to join Garza and his friends. There wasn't a dark cloud in the sky.

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