Photo courtesy of the Travis Roy Foundation / Twitter

Remembering Travis Roy

11 seconds on the ice. Silence in the rink. The type of silence that only comes when the crowd knows something is seriously wrong.

25 years ago, a freak accident in his first hockey game at Boston University left Travis Roy paralyzed from the neck down. Roy passed away on October 29, 2020 due to complications from a recent surgery, almost exactly a quarter century after his accident.

11 seconds was all it took for Roy to be driven into the boards where he cracked his fourth vertebra. Although this accident ended his promising hockey career right there on the ice, Travis Roy took advantage of this incident to be an inspiration not only to hockey players across the country, but to everyone.

Roy grew up in Maine and ultimately joined the Tabor Academy hockey team in Massachusetts. He earned the honor of wearing a “C” on his sweater at Tabor, becoming a hockey captain at the school. 

Roy eventually made his way to BU to play hockey on a scholarship. He was regarded by teammates, coaches, and athletic administrators as being not only a promising young hockey player, but also a stand-up citizen in the BU community. 

The character and tenacity that Roy was praised for in the years after his accident were already evident in the hockey community from even before he stepped onto the ice. 

Number 24 first took the ice with BU in an exhibition game his freshman year. Although it was a blowout win for the Terriers, 12-0, it was apparent the level of skill and comfortability Roy had on the ice. 

BU’s first game of the 1995-1996 season was on October 20 at Walter Brown Arena in Boston. The team was playing North Dakota and should have been celebrating their 8-5 win to kick off the season. However, 11 seconds into his first collegiate shift, Travis Roy crashed headfirst into the boards and the awkward angle left him paralyzed in the ice.

Roy spent time in the intensive care unit, wondering if his life was even worth living anymore. Just as quickly as his hockey career had started, it was over. 

Travis regards his time playing for BU as, “the 11 seconds at Walter Brown Arena playing for Boston University were the best 11 seconds of my life.” 

Despite a horrific tragedy that is the worst nightmare of any hockey player, Travis Roy was a symbol of perseverance and hope after his paralysis. He dedicated his life to raising awareness for spinal cord injuries and raising money to help people who had been injured like him.

Although Roy first received national attention for his accident, he converted this energy into inspiring others and threw himself into his foundation.

The Travis Roy Foundation (TRF) was established in 1996 by Travis Roy, of course. The mission of the foundation is, “dedicated to helping spinal cord injury survivors live more independent and hopeful lives through adaptive equipment grants and funding scientific research focused on solving paralysis-related challenges.”

Roy turned his injury into an opportunity. 

An opportunity to help others who are now facing the same future as he was at the time. Roy always felt so fortunate for the number of donations he received after his accident, and parlayed this generosity toward people who didn’t have national attention and support behind them.

The TRF has supported millions of dollars worth of aid for spinal cord injuries to date. According to the foundation’s website, half of the money they receive goes to Quality of Life grants which purchase equipment for people with spinal cord injuries such as wheelchairs, vehicle modifications, and much more. The foundation has also donated over $4.7 million to research grants that are trying to solve spinal cord problems and paralysis.

The BU community and the city of Boston gathered almost exactly five years ago to celebrate Roy on the twentieth anniversary of his accident. Roy appeared on ESPN and signed a one-day contract with the Boston Bruins; Boston then declared October 20 “Travis Roy Day.” 

Travis Roy’s #24 jersey was hung on the bench everyday at practice during the ‘95-’96 season. The same #24 was retired by the BU hockey program in 1999 and it remained the only jersey in the rafters until 2014 when Roy’s former coach, Jack Parker, received the same honor.

Roy’s work and impact goes far beyond Comm Ave and the Walter Brown Arena. He traveled throughout his life as a motivational speaker to high schoolers and NHL players alike. Travis will not only be remembered for his stint on the ice, but also for his philanthropy and motivational speeches.

There are not many things the BC community can agree upon with BU, but one of those things is that Travis Roy is a legend in both the hockey and philanthropic worlds. He truly lived as a man for others, embodying the values BC prides itself on. 

Travis Roy’s legacy will live on through his endless hard work in the TRF and his story provides us all an opportunity to put life into perspective. 

Donate here to the Travis Roy Foundation to help continue Travis Roy’s work for spinal cord injuries.

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Emma Twombly