The benefits of participating in athletics as a youngster are likely to stay with a person throughout the venture into adulthood.
Travis Leonard, a 2004 Mahomet-Seymour graduate and 2009 University of Illinois graduate — who threw the discus in track and field — uses what he learned during his time competing to fuel his creative work today.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t remember many of my athletic accomplishments,” said Leonard, who set the Corn Belt Conference record in the discus and competed in the Big Ten Championships. “The memories of the people you were surrounded by are much more profound. I used my athletic career to further my education and entertain myself while I was preparing for what I’m doing now.”
Leonard’s first book, entitled, “The Carolina Gold Highway,” follows “Avery,” an American college student, who after finishing his final exam, finds himself in a swamp after spending time with a woman he met in a bar.
Once he finds his way out of the swamp, “Avery” is captured by a slave owner and forced into slavery in a community where slavery has been secretly practiced since the American Civil War.
The idea for the book came to Leonard as he was touring with his band, Hobart Ocean.
“We were driving great distances in the South,” Leonard said. “I caught myself daydreaming and staring into the vast forested areas and wondering what could be out there. Eventually, this led to, what could you hide out there?”
“I’ve always been fascinated with the Civil War and what if a few events had gone differently? Our world would be unrecognizable. The idea came to me a little while after that tour when I was reflecting on my experiences from visiting that area of the country.”
Leonard contacted his mother, Robin.
“I called my mom and told her about this idea that I had for a book. She said it sounded like it was worth my time,” he said.
“I trust her because she was an English teacher for a decade and coincidentally, she was my eighth-grade English teacher.
“I debated on whether or not to write a book or a screenplay for a movie. She gave me some great advice. She said, ‘Write the book. Most films come from books. You can always adapt it to a screenplay later.’ ”
After six weeks of writing 1,000 words a day, Leonard finished the book in September of 2016, then submitted it to every publisher he could find.
“I can thank athletics for that discipline in time management,” he said.
While vacationing at Disneyland in March of 2017, Leonard woke up to an email from Pegasus Publishers, in England, who offered a traditional contract for his work.
The book was published in September 2017.
“In the book, I make a lot of millennial jokes. I point things out that are just plain absurd to me. There is no hidden meaning or agenda in the book, it’s just pure entertainment with a dash of me pointing out my issues with society. If you read it, you’ll figure out that there is a lot of me in the protagonist.”
Leonard said this may not be his last book.
“I have a lot of ideas for books like this,” he said. “Not necessarily about slavery, but about one event changing the world forever.”
Between writing, traveling around the world with his music career, modeling and working as a nurse, Leonard said he draws from the time management skills he learned during career as a student-athlete to help him balance his time.
“I was juggling touring with my band, competing for the Illini, and writing my Master’s thesis at the University of Illinois for a few months there,” he said. “That was a hoot.”
“My insane work ethic does not seem insane to me,” he continued. “I don’t think I was born with it, but my parents made sure that I developed one. I learned early on that time management is the key to success at every level. If you can get stuff done quickly and do it well, you will beat out most of the competition.”
It is that work ethic that has taken him from “playing percussion at Lincoln Trail in the fifth-grade band … to the frontman playing guitar for a lot of screaming ladies.”
Leonard’s message for Mahomet-Seymour students today?
“Pursue your dreams, Mahomet. Don’t wait around for someone to give them to you.”
Leonard currently lives in Los Angeles. He encourages Mahomet students to contact him at @HobartOcean on any social media platform.