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Twenty years later, Travis Roy still making impact

by Mike G. Morreale

Travis Roy had three goals for himself growing up in Augusta, Maine.

He wanted to play Division I college hockey, he wanted to play in the NHL and he wanted to represent the United States at the Olympics. It was a common wish for any young hockey player from New England.

Eleven seconds into his first shift for Boston University, on Oct. 20, 1995, skating on a line with future NHL players Chris Drury and Mike Grier, Roy's life changed forever.

While attempting to check a player on the University of North Dakota in the right-wing corner, Roy went headfirst into the boards and fell to the ice. The impact shattered his fourth and fifth vertebrae, leaving him a quadriplegic.


Former Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker is fond of all the players he coached during his 40 years behind the bench. But Travis Roy remains the closest.

Parker, 70, shared with a moment with Roy he'll never forget.

"A year after his accident he came back to restart his freshman year, and I live four doors down from his dorm," Parker said. "We went out to eat, went to the movies. Coming home from a restaurant one night he said he wanted to talk to me so we got to his dorm and sat on a bench. I could see he was all upset and I asked him why. He said he didn't know what was going to happen. He was so afraid because he felt he would never get that feeling he had when he played hockey; that passion and love he had for the game.

"He said that passion was the thing he loved the most. He knew he'd be a good son and get a degree. But he didn't know if he'd ever have the passion for something like he had for hockey. I said, 'Well, you don't know that Trav. God never closes a window without opening up another.' I didn't think much about that conversation until just recently when I got a call from one of my former assistant coaches [Don Cahoon] who asked me if I could get a hold of Travis and ask him to talk to a friend of his who was in a car accident and was now a quadriplegic.

"I called Travis the next morning, and after I mentioned his name, Travis said that he had already seen him. I couldn't believe it. I asked how he knew him. Travis said the boy was at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where Travis stayed after his accident. I could hear the enthusiasm in his voice about what he might be able to do for this boy and I said, 'Wow, there it is.' He's got a different attitude now and he's helping a lot more people now than if he were just a hockey player."

It was a sign to Parker that Roy had a new passion.

"When you think about it, what makes Travis unique is that he can go over there, talk to that boy and his parents and say to them he knows exactly what they're going through. Because he lived it."

-- Mike G. Morreale

Roy, who turned 40 years old on April 17, has been in a wheelchair ever since. Tuesday marks 20 years since that injury.

"Twenty years is a long time; I just remember how the first 20 years of my life felt and how it took me to where I wanted to be. So it's hard to believe that I've lived a whole other life since then," Roy told "At the same time there's a lot of other things that, when I look at my life, I realize it's very different now."

Roy's life changed drastically the night of his injury, and it took him a few years before he realized what he needed to do.

"The first five years after my injury was really when I was trying to figure out who I was; the first goal was just to get through college and get a degree," said Roy said, who earned a degree in public relations from Boston University in May 2000. "It was really the next five years, from 2000 to 2005, when I started to figure out what was possible, what I wanted to do and how I was going to live.

"Some were personal goals, like a career in public speaking. I wanted to get to the professional ranks where I had an agent and was traveling the country. And my other goal was to make the Travis Roy Foundation impactful."

The Travis Roy Foundation was founded in 1997 to help fund research and treatment of spinal cord injuries and give financial assistance to those suffering from similar injuries. The foundation has raised an average of $1 million per year the past 18 years.

"I give about 40 talks a year and that's how I make my living," Roy said. "Then the work of the foundation is my way of giving back. Starting the foundation was the easy part. But for me, the biggest accomplishment is where we are 18 years later and the impact we're having on research. We're not by any means a big player in the spinal cord field, but we are a player and we're making a difference in our little niche."

In addition to touring the country as a motivational speaker, he wrote his autobiography, "Eleven Seconds," in 1998.

Roy said he's grateful for the support system around him, including his family and friends; among them is Jack Parker, his coach at BU.

"Mr. Parker was there for me and that was a big thing," Roy said. "He made sure that I felt a part of the BU hockey family, which is really a unique family among college sports. I've always kind of felt like I was a part of that and I'm proud to be a part of the BU hockey family."

The Boston Bruins Foundation and Bruins Alumni donated $50,000 to the Travis Roy Foundation in September. Boston University will honor Roy on Tuesday with "A Night for Travis Roy" at Agganis Arena, home of the Terriers. For more information on the event, visit

"[Calgary Flames president of hockey operations] Brian Burke will be in town and will serve as one of the guest speakers; he has always been close to my family," Roy said. "Parker, the Boston mayor, my friends, family will all be there. The Boston Celtics, Red Sox, New England Patriots and Bruins are all involved too.

"We live in a pretty neat, sports-crazed area and Bostonians don't forget, whether they are sports legends that played forever, or somebody like me who just played college hockey for 11 seconds."


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