Darla Bardelli

Darla Bardelli
Darla Bardelli, Professional Angler, National Talk Show Host, Breast Cancer Survivor and Founder of Anglers Against Breast Cancer

It was a chance meeting. Alex Langer first met Darla at the first Womens Bassmaster Tour event when Darla was broadcasting live for her radio program, Outdoors Arizona and Alex was doing the same for Outdoors This Week from Lake Neely Henry in Alabama in 2004. There was an inscription under the front of her boat, which was very unusual. Alex asked Darla what it said. Darla responded, it was for the bass, "FREE BOAT RIDES". That was so Darla! Alex saw what a tremendous broadcaster and person she was first-hand and their collaboration soon began. It was a few years hence that Darla discovered she had breast cancer and no insurance.

Most women would have had the wind knocked out of their sails, but Darla began fighting. She talked to anyone who’d listen and soon raised the means and dollars to beat her cancer. “Darla is an inspiration to all women, not just in bass fishing, which she promotes zealously for women anglers, but in overcoming life’s biggest obstacles and winning”, opined Alex Langer. She’s a survivor -- That’s why I asked her to join us on the radio.

NEW YORK TIMES Published: September 17, 2008

For a Pro Angler, Fishing Is a Relief From Breast Cancer


AUGUSTA, Ga. — Darla Bardelli is getting ready to fish, so she slips off her pink shoes, which reveal toenails polished pink, and reaches for her pink fishing rod. A moment later, a plastic worm is sailing through the air and splashes the water.

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times Darla Bardelli, a Women’s Bassmaster Tour competitor, learned a year ago that she had cancer. For the next few seconds at least, in anticipation of a bite, her mind is on the task at hand.

“You always have one foot in cancer land,” Bardelli said, “but fishing has helped get the rest of me out of cancer land. Your life is so far out of control that focusing on fishing is a relief. I need this. I had to come here.”

Bardelli is standing on a bass boat on Clarks Hill Lake practicing for the Women’s Bassmaster Tour event that starts here Thursday. She has finished 24th and 47th in two previous events and missed a third because of complications from radiation treatment.

The conditions on the lake are brutal. Broiling heat has chased fish deep into waters that have been fished three weekends in a row in tournaments. The women take their three highest finishes in the four events to try to make the field for the championship event next month in Hot Springs, Ark., and Bardelli needs to be in the top 15 this week in the field of 74.

She has not practiced much, does not have her own boat with her and is still weak from radiation treatments that ended five weeks ago. She is at a physical disadvantage because of her surgery — a double radical mastectomy.

Bardelli, 55, found a lump on her right breast in August 2007. As it grew, the pain intensified and she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in her right side, and Stage 1 in her left side.

Last September, her bushy blond hair was in clumps circling the drain in her shower because of chemotherapy. She was on her way down to a size 4 from a size 14, a loss of 50 pounds, and her marriage was falling apart. She did not have health insurance.

Bardelli shook her head as she talked about how her life changed so abruptly, creating so much uncertainty.

She hosts a talk radio outdoors show in Phoenix and has a nationally broadcast show, Outdoors America, that reaches 120 stations in the United States. Her life was so vibrant she did not even consider the possibility of cancer.

Bardelli, who raced dune buggies in the Baja when she 13, shot her first deer when she was 12, learned to water ski when she was 5, and talked archery with her male-dominated audience, was on a roll.

“The biggest thing I had to worry about was falling off my boat or getting a fish hook in my hand,” she said, “And then, whammo.”

After the chemo came the mastectomy on Feb. 11. After that, the determination to hold a fishing rod again and not waste another second on self-pity.

When she got out of the hospital after surgery, Bardelli taped drain tubes to her side and walked three miles every day to the fishing hole closest to her home in Phoenix to watch others fish and walked back. She could not hold a rod for six weeks, but she wanted to rebuild the strength in her legs so she could be ready to stand on a trolling motor in Lewisville, Tex., in April for a tour event.

Bardelli drove 25 hours to Texas in her yellow Jeep, slept by the side of the road and finished 24th. Listeners and sponsors helped pay her way, and she shared her story on the air.

The surgery has stripped her ability to power fish with crank baits and spinners. Bardelli can throw and reel hard for a few hours, but then she tires, and has to soak a worm and let it do the work. Bardelli casts to a spot and allows the bait to settle to the bottom, or she suspends it with a Carolina rig and slowly works it back to the boat. Where some anglers might make 1,200 casts a day, Bardelli might get half that many.

“She has been real good with plastics before, she can fish with that,” said Dianna Clark, the 2006 Angler of the Year, and a close friend, who is helping Bardelli meet expenses on the road. “This is one amazing woman. The fact that she is here with all that has happened to her in a year is incredible.”

Bardelli did not have to fill her wardrobe with pink, the color that symbolizes breast cancer, because five years ago she started wearing the color. She was trying to link feminism to the outdoors, not even thinking pink would soon surround her life in more dramatic fashion.

While she practiced Monday with Sharon Teague, a friend and an angler, Bardelli was head-to-toe pink with a pink visor, earrings with a splash of pink, a pink fishing rod, pink fishing line and a splash of pink on her cheeks from the bright sun. When the tournament starts, she will put on her fishing shirt with pink logos from sponsors, the same shirt she wore in chemo treatments to help lift the spirits in a chemo room crowded with other patients.

“I really don’t stand on the why-me square as much as the why not me square,” Bardelli said. “I have a big voice. I am very outspoken about having breast cancer and telling people that one in eight women are going to get breast cancer.

“Where is everybody else that looks like me? You don’t see them. You know why? People will treat you differently, you’re scared, you want to curl up in a ball and pretend this never happened to you and you have to fight that.

“Fishing helps me fight it.”