Lighting a spark by casting a line — a Northeast Ohio man is breaking down barriers and sharing a life-long passion with strangers. But after spending hours with them on the open water of Lake Erie, they become something much more.
Being in nature and behind the wheel of his boat is where Art Panfil has navigated some of the most difficult days of his life.
"It's brought me nothing but peace and joy, and happiness. I've been an avid outdoorsman and fisherman my whole life," said Panfil.
However, his comfort leaving the shoreline as a young boy didn't come from his dad.
"He couldn't swim, he was afraid of the water," said Panfil.
Arthur K. Panfil was a veteran. He was also an avid volunteer at his local church and hospital.
"He served his country during the Korean War," said Panfil. "We didn't have a lot, but he always found a way to give back."
Months after Arthur's death at the age of 92, Art came up with a way to try and emulate the example his dad set for him.
"The inspiration really was my dad. Instead of paying it forward, we're trying to cast it forward," said Panfil.
Panfil, through the non-profit he started, “Cast it Forward,” provides cost-free walleye excursions for those who might not otherwise get the chance.
"Our mission is kids, seniors, veterans and others to take them out on Lake Erie," said Panfil.
News 5 was on board for Brian Miller's trip.
"I've not been on the lake for six years," said Miller, who loves to test his angling skills, but suffered a major setback while enjoying the great outdoors.
"I was involved in a bicycle accident, got paralyzed from my armpits down, stuck in a wheelchair," said Miller.
Miller's attempts to introduce his son Sammy to the popular pastime were too risky.
"Tried to go fishing twice on the shore and it never worked at all, just can’t do it safely," said Miller.
But on this day, thanks to "Cast it Forward," it finally happened.
"An incredible organization to help me get out on the water," said Miller.
The trip also took some planning and ingenuity on Miller’s part.
"I built a platform to level my chair with the side of the boat to facilitate the transfer in," said Miller.
The father and son duo got the chance to make memories.
"I always enjoyed fishing. I want to show him what it's like to see if he enjoys it. So far so good," said Miller.
Miller had his share of dark days shortly following his accident that left him asking questions.
"What am I worth? What's the point of living anymore?" said Miller.
Miller said opportunities like this one prove there’s still a lot of life to live.
"Now I'm at the stage where — what can I do, what options, what fun stuff can I safely get involved in? And this is a clear win," said Miller.
The day on the water left Miller energized and inspired by the boat captain who helped make this possible.
"That's the way I want to be when I grow up. Thank you very much, this is incredible,” said Miller.
Panfil said he doesn’t know who’s getting more from these fishing excursions, his guests or himself.
"We're striking a chord with people, and it's really making a difference in their lives. People are always very appreciative and very thankful," said Panfil.
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