(Men)ding Lines – Charlie Penley
Casting for Recovery’s (Men)ding Lines series is back! Each month, we will highlight a male river helper, donor or volunteer who is supportive of CfR. Meet Charlie Penley, a CfR BOT and longtime River Helper who is passionate about both fly fishing and serving women with breast cancer.
Tell us about yourself and how you became interested/involved in the sport of fly fishing?
I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors, and pursued hiking, mountain biking, and whitewater paddling for many years. Several years ago, I attended a Tennessee Conservation Voters fundraiser with my wife, Connally, and several friends. One of the items offered for auction was a day of fly fishing instruction with Susan Thrasher. I didn’t know Susan at the time, nor did I have any idea about her connection with Casting for Recovery. A couple of my river buddies and I won the auction item, and enjoyed a wonderful day on the Elk River with Susan. We all caught a few fish after some excellent instruction. I was, as we say, hooked!
Connally and I had a cabin in the Smokies at that time, so I went to Little River Outfitters in Townsend, TN, and got “geared up.” With some additional instruction, reading about aquatic insects, and the like, I’ve been able to enjoy many days of the trout streams of Tennessee. One of my partners is a serious salt water fly fisherman, so a trip to Belize for bonefish followed, and I continue to enjoy salt water fly fishing whenever time for travel presents itself.
Due to the demands of a busy medical practice, I’ve had limited fishing time, so remain a novice to intermediate fly fisherman. As retirement approaches, however, I’m looking forward to more time on the water!
When did you get involved with CfR and makes you want to return as a River Helper to continually support CfR?
After the initial day of instruction, I’ve stayed in touch with Susan Thrasher. I’ve enjoyed guided trips on the Caney Fork with family and friends, and Susan has always been the individual that I’ve reached out to. Somewhere along the way, in conversation on the water or afterward, we discussed Susan’s involvement with CfR. I saw the potential for benefit for my patients, and those of my partners, so began to place brochures in my office waiting room regarding the CfR program. Several of my patients participated, and came back raving about the amazing weekend experience. I became a donor to the Middle Tennessee program, and lobbied for our practice to do the same. Tennessee Oncology is proud to sponsor the work of so many amazing volunteers in support of our patients.
With regard to being a river helper, it seemed like a natural next step. What a joy it is to spend a day on a beautiful stream, watching the amazing smiles spread across the faces of our participants as they experience time on the water and landing their first fish!
What’s your memorable experience (with a participant or at a CfR retreat) that stands out in your mind?
I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating. During my first year on the Board of Trustees of CfR, I arranged to attend the Middle Tennessee retreat during the day on the river. I tried to simply stay in the background and soak it all in. There were participants and guides in the river, and those that weren’t comfortable wading in moving water were fishing around a well stocked pond on the property. I was standing near a delightful woman who caught her first fish at the pond. She was beaming ear to ear! After photos were taken, and the small panfish was released, I engaged in a brief conversation with her. I wanted to hear firsthand what her experience had been during the weekend. When I asked her that question, her answer was brief, but very clear. She simply said, “This has been the best weekend of my life!”
What words of encouragement would you give to a breast cancer survivor who is hesitant about attending a Casting for Recovery retreat because they don’t fly fish?
I simply tell potential participants that the retreats are about SO MUCH MORE than fly fishing. Sure, fly fishing is the central theme, but the goal is to get them outdoors in a beautiful setting, make them the center of attention, encourage them to relax in the company of other women who have experienced breast cancer, and allow them to feel fully supported while participating in an activity that they likely have never experienced before. In short, while their lives were certainly changed by breast cancer, they still have the capability of learning new things, pursuing new experiences, and truly letting go in the company of others.
Do you have a ‘lucky’ fly that you use on CfR retreat waters?
I wish I could say that I have a lucky fly—in my book, the lucky one is the one that brings a nice trout to the net! With respect to the CfR retreats, the lucky fly for me is the beautiful pink fly in the CfR logo, because it reminds me why we do what we do! I am simply grateful to be part of this amazing organization, and look forward to continued success and growth of the programs that we are privileged to be able to provide.