Like many Cortez natives, Chasten Whitfield lives and breathes fishing. Since she was a teenager, she dreamed of one day having her own fishing show. Now, at 23, she is wrapping up filming for the second season of Their Life My Lens, a show that follows her as she takes differently abled young people out for a day on the water.
As a female angler, Whitfield's journey in the sport has been a bit different than most. In high school, she was made fun of for being a girl who liked to fish, but she didn’t let that stop her. Instead, she used the criticism as motivation, forming an all-girls fishing team in 2015 and leading them to a first place victory in the annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament.
While Whitfield began to inspire more young girls to take up fishing, it wasn’t until she met a young boy with spina bifida that she realized the true potential of the sport. The boy, Easton, was participating in a fishing camp Chasten was leading when she learned he had never been on a boat before. Easton used a wheelchair and thought it wouldn’t be able to fit in a boat, but Chasten wouldn’t take no for an answer. She found a friend whose boat could accommodate Easton and took him fishing.
“Seeing his reaction lit me up," Whitfield says. "It was right then and there that I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life."
After that encounter, Whitfield started a nonprofit, Chastenation, a charitable organization that raises money through sponsorships and donations to make her inclusive endeavors, like Their Life My Lens, possible. Although, a TV show doesn’t just happen on its own. After making YouTube videos for years, Whitfield studied film and television production at Savannah College of Art and Design on a bass fishing scholarship. During her first year in college, she wrote down her dreams of one day having a show of her own and hung it on a wall.
For Whitfield, the young people she takes fishing have helped her find a deeper appreciation for the sport. “I get frustrated if I’m not catching 50 fish, while these kids are happy to catch three, or even just bait,” she says. “The No. 1 thing I have learned from the kids is that it’s the little things that matter. One kid I took fishing sat with his eyes closed, arms open and just felt the wind. They notice things I have never taken time to appreciate. I catch these fish every single day, and when they see them, they say, ‘Did you know there is blue in their eye?’—something I’ve never seen."
The trips aren't just an escape for the kids, but for the parents, too. “These families have been through the ringer," Whitfield says. "Both the kid and the parent are getting a day off from whatever treatment, doctor’s appointment or therapy they have to go to. In fact, I think my favorite moments from the show are when a kid leans over and kisses their parent on the cheek and says, ‘I love you so much.’ It makes me cry almost every episode.”
It’s hard not to get emotional seeing a child surprise themselves with their capabilities and joy. The show emphasizes the abilities, not the disabilities, of the kids when they spend a day with Whitfield.
Whitfield hopes the show inspires others to continue her mission. “If your neighbor has Down syndrome, if you know a kid with a handicap, take them golfing, take them horseback riding, take them for a day at the beach," Whitfield says. "Show people they are able. They just have different abilities."
At the end of the day, we never know how much any person is capable of until we give them the opportunity to show us. Like Whitfield says, the fish never judge. “Fish don’t care what you like, what you’ve been through in your past, or what you’re wearing. So, why should we?” We should all be a lot more like the fish.
Season two of Their Life My Lens will begin airing on Destination America at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 27. The show will also appear on the Pursuit Channel and Waypoint TV, but exact times have not yet been confirmed. You can learn more at chastenation.com.