Early life, tragedy of Southern Seminary alumnus portrayed in movie, ‘23 Blast’
When Travis Freeman lost his eyesight in high school, he never expected his story to be told on the big screen. He just wanted to play football. But 23 Blast, a film based on his journey in early high school when he lost his sight after contracting an illness, releases Friday, Oct. 24, in 600 theaters across the country.
“The movie isn’t the Travis Freeman story,” said the two-time graduate from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in a recent interview. “It does a really good job capturing the spirit of my story. I want people to be encouraged whether by watching the movie, 23 Blast, or reading the book, or following me on Twitter or hearing me speak.”
The movie chronicles Freeman’s story as he went from a healthy teenager and football player to a hospital patient with bacterial meningitis that left him blind in 1993.
His story gained national attention as news outlets like USA Today, The New York Times, and the Today Show, covered Freeman’s journey as a blind football player. But little did he know that Tonni Hoover, a family friend from Corbin, Kentucky, where Freeman grew up, wanted to bring his story to movie theaters. Hoover and her son, Bram — a teammate on Freeman’s football team in high school — co-wrote the screenplay for 23 Blast, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Freeman graduated from Southern Seminary with an M.Div. (2007) and Ph.D. (2012) degree.
He said that his time at Southern prepared him well for this season of life and ministry. He also believes his education equipped him to better serve people with disabilities, as he established the Freeman Foundation — a parachurch ministry to train and educate people about disabilities. The foundation’s mission statement is to “inspire people to overcome the disabilities they face in their life.”
“The mission statement is to promote the truth that disability does not equal inability,” he said. “My education at Southern began to help me think in these ways about the church and social justice and the gospel and theology. It has helped me be able to articulate what I felt 21 years ago when I lost my sight,” he said.
Hershael W. York, Victor and Louise Professor of Christian Preaching and Freeman’s dissertation supervisor, praised his former student’s determination and love for unbelievers.
“Travis is an unusually gifted man with a resolve and a grit like few others. The determination that motivated him to play football and inspired the movie has multiplied many times over and now compels him to preach the gospel,” York said. “Travis may not have physical sight, but he clearly sees the lostness of the world and has a burden for evangelism. No one who meets him comes away unimpressed, but no one who hears him preach can leave unchallenged.”
Freeman travels to different churches and ministries to preach and share his story. He is also an adjunct professor in the missions and ministry department at The University of Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. He teaches New Testament, Old Testament, preaching apologetics, and other subjects.
He is confident that blindness or any other disability does not equate to inability or the end of life. Instead, he said, God’s sovereignty is a doctrine that becomes more real when tragedy occurs.
“Life does not end when tragedy comes into your life,” he said. “When we look at the gospel, we see, I think, God has a plan — that God loves and cares for us no matter what our present circumstances might be.”
More information about Freeman, 23 Blast, or Lights Out is available at travisfreeman.org.