When I was a freshman in high school at Tabor Academy, the name Travis Roy was one that I learned right away. Knowing Travis’s story was perhaps one of the first things that we learned as freshmen, even before we had memorized the lyrics to the Tabor Alma Mater or played in our first athletic games of the fall season. Seeing Travis’s face as well as his old hockey jersey hanging on the wall was a daily occurrence as we walked past the hockey rink in the athletic center.
This spring, nearly seven years later, I finally had the opportunity to meet the famous Travis Roy. As soon as I learned that he would be coming to speak at Boston College, I excitedly marked the date on my calendar. When the day finally came, I made my way to the Yawkey Center and found a seat, my heart pounding as I waited.
Travis rolled in on his motorized wheelchair, smiling from the strict upright position. After a brief introduction from BC’s beloved Coach Jerry York, all eyes fell on Travis and he began to tell his story. As soon as he opened his mouth to speak, I felt my eyes fill up with tears.
Naturally, he started from the beginning – specifically, at his childhood hockey rink in Maine where his father used to coach him. Travis was born with an innate love and talent for the sport; even at a young age, he was fiercely competitive and determined to be the best he could possibly be. One day, he made a list of goals for himself: play on a Division I team, play in the NHL, and then make the Olympic team. With these goals in mind, Travis left his high school in Maine to play at Tabor, a boarding school with a strong hockey program. Travis thrived at Tabor and, as one of the top hockey recruits on the country, went on to accept a hockey scholarship at Boston University.
Eleven seconds was all it took. Travis skated onto the ice during his first collegiate game, proudly bearing number 24, when a University of North Dakota player dodged his check. Travis slid into the boards head-first and lay on the ice, unable to get up. Coach Jack Parker, the rest of the team, and the thousands of fans watched as Travis lay still on the ice, hoping he would get up. He couldn’t. Even before being rushed to the hospital, however, Travis knew that he was in serious trouble. He had cracked two vertebrae and would live the rest of his life as a quadriplegic. In a mere eleven seconds, Travis’s lifelong dreams were shattered and his life was changed forever.
In an interview after the accident Coach Parker said, “There was no question in my mind that not only would Travis Roy have been one of the best players on the team, he would’ve been the best guy on the team; that’s the kind of kid he was.” Shortly after the accident, Coach Parker made the decision to retire number 24 in honor of Travis. To this day, Travis is the only player to have a retired number at BU.
Travis proceeded to tell how, through intensive physical therapy and an unceasingly positive spirit, he eventually returned to BU to earn a degree in Communications. It wasn’t easy of course; everyday tasks had become impossible without assistance and other students treated him differently. When he got back, he ate his first meal in the dining hall alone – it was as if he had become invisible. Although he recognized that many people didn’t know what to say to him or how to act, Travis urged us not to react this way to people who have disabilities or may simply be different from us. “Put a smile on your face and say hello,” he said.
After college, he started the Travis Roy Foundation, an organization devoted to funding research for a cure to spinal cord injuries as well as supplying funds for wheelchairs, ramps, and other simple things that make individuals’ lives a bit easier. Over four million dollars have been raised through the foundation and its various events in order to come closer to finding a cure.
This week, in association with the Beanpot, one of Boston’s most exciting and competitive hockey tournaments, the Travis Roy Foundation will be hosting a benefit game for local players at Agganis Arena. The players will receive tickets to watch as Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, and Harvard inspire the cheers of thousands of fans. Although Travis was never able to play in the Beanpot himself, he has found a way to share both his love of hockey and his devotion to helping others through this event.
Throughout his speech, Travis emphasized the importance of setting goals, doing whatever it takes to achieve them, and having pride in ourselves. If we believe in the goodness and strength that we all possess, we can accomplish truly amazing feats. “We have this inner spirit; it’s a matter of determination,” Travis said. Lastly, at the end of his speech, Travis took a moment to talk about love. He encouraged us to hug those whom we love and to remind them that we love them; it seems like a simple gesture, but it’s one of the most meaningful things that we can do.
I have never met someone who has experienced such adversity and persevered to become better and stronger than before. Shaking Travis’ hand at the end of his speech was easily one of the highlights of my college career. Not only has Travis become a local and national hero, he has become a personal hero of mine.
Looking forward to the challenges that face each of us, I think Travis says it best. “I have found in life there are times when we choose our challenges and then there are other times when the challenges simply choose us,” he said, “and really it comes down to what we do in the face of challenges that really determines who we are and, more importantly, who we can and will become.”