Charlie Harper: #TravOnGameDay

October 1, 2013 

Usually when I write columns that are about real people and/or events that aren't overtly political, readers in the comments on my blog and/or on Facebook can't seem to wait to make the comparison to whatever political event to which they see a parallel as if to fill in the last missing piece. I would urge those readers not to do so with today's column. There is nothing intended to be political about today's subject matter. This one is about as direct and straightforward as they come.

I've never met Travis, but I've known his brother- in-law Joe for a few years. I met Joe like I've met many people - through various political events and activities we attend together. I know him well enough to know that he and Travis are very close, and enough to call him a friend.

A few months ago, Travis was diagnosed with a rare and extremely serious form of cancer. There is rarely good news to be given to people in Travis' condition, but most of the initial test results were promising. Last week they experienced their first major setback since treatment began.

There are times when nervous energy collides head-on with hopelessness. Joe wanted to do something for Travis as they continued to digest the news that his cancer was again growing and this time also spreading. Early Wednesday morning, he wrote a few words about Travis, including:

"Nobody is more fun, nobody is funnier, nobody is more interesting and no one else can get away with the things he says and does. People always tell me, 'Yeah, I know this guy and he's just like Travis,' or 'We get along cause I'm just like Travis.' Even if I don't do it physically, I am rolling my eyes every time I hear that sort of claim. I know a lot of people, but I don't know anyone like Travis, except Travis.

"I haven't met one person who believes Travis can be beaten. He doesn't lose. That is what makes him different from all the people who are supposedly 'just like him.' He is will and perseverance and fire.

"The last couple days have been hard. The last couple days have brought bad news and then worse news. His chemotherapy is failing, and the cancer is growing.

"MD Anderson in Houston has a brand new clinical trial, and Travis is a shoe-in for the treatment.

"Travis said tonight that this is his Doug Flutie moment. Travis didn't say that this is his Hail Mary, because a Hail Mary is a long shot. Travis said that this is his Doug Flutie moment, because Flutie won."

And with that, Joe decided he would start a campaign. With Travis being a huge Georgia Bulldogs fan and with ESPN coming to Athens for the LSU game, Joe decided he would get Travis on ESPN's "Gameday" program. It would require a campaign unlike those he usually works so hard on. This one was not a marathon. It would be a short three-day sprint.

The tactics were simple: use social media and a "hashtag" of #TravOnGameday to get ESPN's attention. With little time, social media would have to be quick.

A lot of Joe's friends wrote about the idea in our various blogs on Wednesday and Thursday. Everyone was encouraged to tweet about Travis. Many actual political campaigns responded and used their grassroots social media network. Several of Georgia's congressmen as well as Governor Deal joined in.

But the response was clearly not exclusively from Republican circles. Cancer is not a partisan issue. A few hours after the story was posted on Peach Pundit, I got a call from a Democratic friend who had a contact at ESPN. He let know he was working the issue. Other Dem friends joined in with equal dedication. They didn't know Joe, and they didn't know Travis. But they knew they could help.

By Friday, when WSB called Travis and Joe about an interview, they told him that there had been 675,000 tweets sent about Travis. What had begun from what was largely a circle of political friends from social media moved well beyond that. And those tweets got ESPN's attention.

They spent the day Saturday with the ESPN crew and were given the red carpet treatment. Pictures were made with Vince Dooley and David Pollack. Travis even got the opportunity to thank Lee Corso for not picking UGA to win the game (as his record on UGA picks is … let's just say he was cheered by the crowd when he picked LSU.)

There is hope that ESPN will come back to Athens again next year for a big game, and that Travis can return for the crew to do a follow-up story on him. But for now, the pace will involve short-term goals and living life one day at a time.

With the message that every day is sacred, Travis and those close to him have made very conscious decisions. There are experiences to be had. There are goals to be set and attained. While there is life, it will be lived.

These are decisions we should all make.

You can learn more about Travis and keep up with his progress at a blog set up to chronicle his journey. It can be found at www.concretefaith.org.

Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.

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