Late last week, the Boston University community lost a legend. Travis Roy, a former BU hockey player and College of Communication graduate, died at age 45, almost exactly 25 years after his first and final hockey game as a Terrier.
Roy’s significance at Boston University is not tied to the number of goals he scored as a highly touted talent, or how many championships he won as the Maine kid at his dream school. The fact is he never had the opportunity to score, and he never played in a championship game.
11 seconds into his first shift at BU’s 1995 season opener at Walter Brown Arena, Roy collided with the endboards head-first, instantly becoming paralyzed from the neck down. In a matter of moments, his playing days were done, and the life he knew was over.
That night and for several months after, Roy received major medical treatment, including spending long periods of time on a ventilator, before eventually being transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. There, alongside other recovering quadriplegics, Roy found his new lease on life.
In a 2018 speech to BU Athletics, which is well worth a listen, Roy said that as his recovery progressed, he found satisfaction in the seemingly minor victories. Eating a bagel required the same amount of focus and energy as weightlifting had less than a year prior, but it was an accomplishment nonetheless. This attitude would fuel Roy as he transitioned back into society.
Returning to his freshman dorm, equipped with a motorized chair instead of a hockey bag, Roy resumed his college career. He graduated with a degree in Communications in 2000, joking in the speech that he probably finished his degree faster than some of his teammates did.
Without hockey in his life, Roy was forced down a different path. At a point when he expected to be advancing towards a career in professional hockey, Roy needed a new mission. Now, decades later, many people close to Roy have been quoted saying they believe he was able to do more and make more of an impact outside of hockey than he would have as a player.
In 1998, Roy published a book titled Eleven Seconds, detailing how he was able to cope with his new reality and take on the challenges he faced as a result of his injury. He also became a popular public speaker, addressing countless audiences in sports and beyond. Away from his own story, though, Roy helped improve the stories of others.
The Travis Roy Foundation was established in 1996, turning Roy’s incident into a source of hope and help for people like him. To this day, half of the funds raised go towards supplying spinal cord injury survivors with the technology and equipment they need, and the other half is put towards research. Donations can be made on the foundation’s website.
In his 2018 speech, Roy left open the possibility that if the technological advancements continued, he may be able to stand and perhaps even get on skates again someday. He may not have been able to fulfill that wish during his lifetime, but as many people around him have said since his passing, there is no doubt that he is skating somewhere now, out of his chair and back on the ice.
Personally, I didn’t know Travis Roy. I walked by him a couple times in the Agganis Arena concourse at BU hockey games, but I never got a chance to talk to him. I really wish I did.
Still, I feel a connection to Travis and his story. Not just because his number hangs on a banner high above the Agganis ice, or because I’m a nerd for Boston University hockey and his incident is such a prevalent event in its history.
Travis is an inspiration to me because, by all accounts, he is the kind of person we should all strive to be.
Travis is the perfect example of making the most of what you are given. No matter the circumstances, even those as tragic as his, a positive attitude and an optimistic outlook can get you through anything. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “opportunity is there if you choose to take it.” Regardless of what’s going wrong, there are ways to make it go right. You just have to find them.
If Travis can do as much as he did with the hand he was dealt, what’s our excuse?
Rest in peace, Travis Roy.