Travis Freeman was just 12 years old when he suddenly lost his eyesight. He told his parents (Mary and Larry Freeman) that he believed he would see again, but if he didn’t, that he couldn’t wait “to see what God’s gonna do with this.” Travis never let his blindness get in the way of his dreams. He played center for the Corbin High School Redhounds, in Corbin, Kentucky; and starting on Friday, October 24th you can watch his inspiring story unfold in movie theaters across the country. The film “23 Blast” is based on Travis’ experience playing high school football in Corbin, Kentucky, and is directed by Dylan Baker. Dylan not only directs the film, but he also stars as Travis’ father, Larry. Both Travis and Dylan were kind enough to join me for an interview yesterday to discuss Travis’ inspirational story, the impact football has had on his life, and what they both hope viewers will take away from the film “23 Blast”.
Candace Rose: Travis, at 12 years old you went blind, and despite that, you went on to play on your high school football team. Can you tell us what inspired you to play football?
Travis Freeman: “Well, I had an amazing coach who really believed in me before I believed in myself. My parents went to him and said ‘Coach, Travis hasn’t been getting a lot of exercise; he needs some. We’d love to get him out there, let him work out with the team a little bit, be an equipment manager or something during the game. We don’t expect him to play or anything. We just want him to be a part of it.’ Coach looked at my mom and said ‘No. If Travis Freeman does anything for this team, he’ll play.’ He said ‘He’ll be the center. The guards will help him to the line, line him up, tell him where his man is, and once he snaps the ball and makes contact with his opponent, it’ll be just like anyone else blocking.”
Candace Rose: Dylan, can you tell us about the film “23 Blast”?
Travis Freeman: “Well, when I received the script from my friend Tony Hoover who wrote it -she had raised her kids in Corbin, so she had been there while this story unfolded. I read it and said this is amazing. This is a great story, but I soon realized we had to go to Corbin, Kentucky. We did, and I met Travis, and I met his parents Mary and Larry, and realized that this film was not only an entertainment, but it also had to embody their faith and their appreciation of the community, of Corbin, Kentucky being a place where a story like this could happen, being a place that would support a young man going through something horrible like this. I think the film incapsulates that story, the spirit of that story. It’s also a great fun family entertainment, good for everybody. I think everybody will leave uplifted from and an upbeat positive message.”
Candace Rose: Dylan, not only did you direct “23 Blast”, but you also starred as Larry Freeman, Travis’ father in the film. Can you tell us about the role?
Dylan Baker: “Well, as soon as I met Travis and met his parents – Mary and Larry are just great people. When they talk about what went on and their ability to work through it, one thing that kept coming up was if they’d get down or in a little in despair, Travis would be the one that would lift them up (and I think it was vice versa).”
Travis Freeman: “Absolutely. Well, my parents were just great supporters of me through the whole journey, and they still are. They’re huge fans of mine, and I love them to death. They’ve really just been a solid foundation for me to stand on.”
Dylan Baker: “In terms of the film, when we all of a sudden on the first or second day – they walked on the set. They said ‘Is it okay if we watch?’ We said, ‘Yes, that’d be great’! All of a sudden, for our little teeny budget film, we actually had the actual people to talk to and ask questions of. They were so open to the crew and to the cast to ask any of their questions and find out how the different parts of the journey went along. It was an incredible resource for the film, but also, we got to like each other a lot.”
Travis Freeman: “It was just a humbling experience for me to walk on to the set the first time and just be overwhelmed with the reality that all these people were there to tell my story. It was just a humbling experience.”
Candace Rose: Travis, what was the experience like for your parents? That had to have been amazing for them!
Travis Freeman: “It was the same. They were proud. They were proud of me and my accomplishments and that my story was finally getting told in this way.”
Dylan Baker: “I prepped Larry. I said ‘Now, look. I know you’re a very diligent guy, but I’m going to try and go for a couple laughs.’ Larry is sort of the husband with the mom that knows what’s going on and runs the family, and he said ‘Well, that’s pretty much the way it is at home.”
Candace Rose: Dylan, your wife Becky is also starring in the film. How has Travis’ story and the movie impacted you and your family?
Dylan Baker: “Well, Travis had an amazing person that helped him out, sort of learning how to live life as a blind person, Patty Wheatley. She’s an amazing woman and a red head, and I was searching and searching for the right actress, and I turned over in bed and there she was! Becky just knocks it out of the park. We both had so much fun working on it. Every time she’d talk to Travis she’d say ‘Am I being too tough?”
Travis Freeman: “No, you’re taking it way too easy. Patty was a tough one.”
Candace Rose: Travis, how has the game of football impacted your life?
Travis Freeman: “Well, the game of football has given me a platform. When I lost my sight I told my parents that I believe I will see again, but if I don’t, I can’t wait to see what God’s gonna do with this. God used football in my life to give me a platform to inspire and encourage people to overcome the obstacles, the tragedies and the trials that they face. Whether it’s through the movie ’23 Blast’ that releases on Friday, October 24th or my autobiography ‘Lights Out’ or just hearing me talk about the story – I want people to be inspired and realize that life does not end when tragedy comes into your life.”
Dylan Baker: “I think the other thing is that in the same way that football was a vehicle for you, in the film, football was more or less the vehicle to bring the story forward. So even for folks that don’t know anything about football, they love the film for the story that it tells.”
Candace Rose: I can’t wait to watch the film “23 Blast”. Where can viewers go for more information and to see the movie?
Dylan Baker: “23Blast.com will tell you exactly the list of theaters where it’s coming out this coming Friday, the 24th of October, and hopefully that list will grow as the weeks go on if we can get a good turn out. It’s tough with a small budget film like ours, but we’re getting as many people out there as we can. It’s a story that we all feel strongly about, that it needs to be heard and seen, and ’23 Blast’ is where you can see it.”