I try to keep things fun and light-hearted and not get too sad, but I felt compelled to share my story with you, in hopes that it might help someone one day.

September 27, 2006, changed my life forever. It may have been sixteen years ago, but I still remember that day as if it were yesterday. There are some days in your life that you'll never forget, and this was the one for me. Sixteen years ago today, my best friend passed away in a car accident. Matt Russell was more than my best friend, he was the brother that I never had. The guy that I always could talk to, rely on and trust more than anyone. Along with our other friend, Matt Hatcher, we were inseparable.

A month shy of seventeen, his life was taken way too soon. He had so much talent, so many dreams. All cut short. Before he and I became friends, I was a quiet and shy kid. Matt brought me out of my shell, taught me how to be myself, and just made me an all-around better person. Matt and I always dreamed about being a part of country music. He loved to entertain people, and that dude could sing! Check out this video of him singing Josh Turner's "Your Man". At only sixteen, he was really good.


His laugh was infectious. It didn't matter if he said or did something funny or not. When he laughed, you laughed. He had such potential and promise to do great things in life. He just never had the chance to.

Matt Russell

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I could go into details of his passing and how it affected me, but that's a long story. To sum it up, after his passing, I wasn't the same happy and funny Travis. There were so many emotions going on in my head: sadness, loneliness, anger, fear, and all of that knowing that I would never have the chance to tell him goodbye or how much he truly meant to me. Maybe you have lost someone close to you, and you can relate to how his passing made me feel.  It can put you in a very dark place that you think you may never get out of. But there's a light at the end of that tunnel if you choose to find it.

It took quite some time to get over his loss. As you may know, it's something that you never really get over, but a thing that just gets better over time. There was a lot of growing up that I did at an age where most people went out, had fun, and didn't have a care in the world. I, on the other hand, began to start thinking about life in a different way. His passing made me realize what was important in life and that life was too short to sit around and mope all of the time. Not only that, but you understand that you should never take anyone for granted. Always tell the ones how you feel about them. Don't just tell them, but show them too. You don't realize how important that is until they are no longer here. His death changed my outlook on life personally in so many ways, but it also led me to where I am today professionally. When something like that happens to you, you have two options. You can let that hold you back in life, or you can let it be motivation. I chose the latter.

There's a line from Clay Walker's song called "Just a Few Questions" that says "it seems unfair to me, some get the chance to chase their dreams, and some don't." That line of the song really hit home with me.

Matt had dreams of entertaining people and being a part of country music just like I did. If I could live out that dream for both of us, why would I let that chance slip by? That became my motivation to achieve a dream that he and I both shared. It's one thing to dream about it, but dreaming about something or sitting around on the couch talking about it, isn't going to change anything. Get off of the couch and DO IT! For me, it wasn't easy. It was a long road to get to where I wanted to be, but I am PROUD to say that I am in a position now where I am doing things that he and I only ever sat around on the couch talking about.

From graduating high school and college to standing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, meeting some of our favorite artists, and even our other best friend named Matt also getting married, I have thought of Matt Russell every day, every step of the way living out a life that we dreamed of.

There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of him or want to tell him what I did that day, but I think he already knows. I don't know if you believe in fate or guardian angels, but after his death, I sure do. I can be driving down the road listening to a song that we used to sing together and I get chills like he's there next to me singing along. The strangest thing was this: the first time that I was ever put on-air for my own show happened to be September 27, 2014. Eight years to the day that he passed away. It gets stranger. The first song that was scheduled for me to play was his favorite song before he passed, "My Wish" by Rascal Flatts.

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Oh, and then there's this: Matt loved to be the center of attention, and somehow, even after his passing, he got to be the center of attention. For the longest time, when you would download the WKDQ App, he was the first thing you would see, right next to his favorite group...

Travis Sams
Travis Sams

I know within my heart that he is looking down smiling...or jealous that he isn't here. Oftentimes, I wonder what life would be like if he were still here. Would I be where I am today if it weren't for his passing?  All I know is that everything happens for a reason. Matt helped to make me the man that I am today, both while he was alive and even after his passing. I just hope that I am making him proud. He's the reason why I choose to live life the way I do, and why I am able to do so many things that we only dreamed about. I carry him with me everywhere I go, and I know he's been along for the ride every day since he passed.

Maybe you are struggling with something similar right now. It's hard, I know. Just know that it does get better, let that be your motivation to make your life as great as it possibly can be. Don't let certain challenges or struggles hold you back in life. You're never guaranteed tomorrow, so make the best out of today.

So tonight, when you get home, take the time to give a long-lost friend or family member a call to catch up, cherish that time with your loved ones, and never take someone's presence for granted. If you love someone, tell them. Don't hold yourself back in life professionally, and in relationships. If you want something, go for it and don't let anyone or anything hold you back. You can't make a difference by sitting at home on the couch talking or thinking about it. Make whatever steps necessary to achieve your goals. You're the only person that you will live with every single day for the rest of your life, so make it count.

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