Life changes in an instant: Travis Roy shares story at Frank Monahan Foundation event

Last modified: Sunday, July 20, 2014
Eleven seconds. That’s all it took for Travis Roy’s life to change forever.

It was his first shift as a member of the Boston University men’s hockey team and as could be expected, Roy wanted to make his presence felt.

“I felt a tap on the back of my shoulder I had waited my whole life for,” Roy told a packed luncheon as the guest speaker at the 2nd annual Frank Monahan Foundation’s Fore the Kids Golf Classic at Concord Country Club yesterday.

As the puck slid into the corner, the 20-year-old freshman skated in to make a hit. But when North Dakota’s Mitch Vig moved to avoid the contact, Roy fell awkwardly into the boards.

“I was just skating there as fast as I could,” Roy said. “I didn’t hit as squarely as I hoped and my momentum took me head first into the boards.”

He immediately knew something was wrong, magnified when his father, Lee, made his way onto the ice.

“I said, ‘Dad, I’m in big trouble,’ ” Roy remembered.

The impact cracked his fourth and fifth vertebra, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Life as he knew it would never be the same. In the weeks and months that followed, Roy got limited use back in his right arm, which allows him to use the joystick on his wheelchair and a computer mouse to some extent, but quickly had to come to grips with what his new life would be like. And it wasn’t easy. One day, he was a young athletic kid with aspirations of playing in the NHL and maybe one day the Olympics and the next he needed others to brush his teeth, get him out of bed and feed him.

“It’s the challenge that chose me,” Roy said. “I can’t do the same physical things, but I can still laugh, I can still cry and I can enjoy the people around me and what’s better than that?”

So over the last 18 years, Roy continues to move forward. Just two years after the accident, he created the Travis Roy Foundation to help others with spinal cord injuries and the families who care for them. The foundation puts half of its resources toward research in hopes of finding a cure. The other half is given to individuals in need of adaptive equipment.

“Obviously, 17 years ago when we started the Travis Roy Foundation, I didn’t know what I was doing. But it was important for me to find a way to give back,” Roy said. “And to know that we’ve given around $5 million to research and grants, I feel we’ve made a difference.”

He travels the country sharing his story at high schools, charity events and different functions, like the Monahan Foundation golf tournament, where he was invited by longtime friend and foundation President Marshall Crane.

“My speaking career is how I make my living,” he said. “And I’m a people person. I enjoy meeting people.”

For the most part, Roy lives in Boston, the city that showed him an outpouring of support following the accident, with the help of 24-hour care and also spends time near family in northern Vermont during the summer.

“I love the city. Boston has been so good to me,” Roy said.

Following his accident, Roy looked for things to help him through the tough times.

“The biggest thing and it’s very simple, is that you just have to find that one little thing that you still look forward to,” Roy said. “It can be anything. Whether you enjoy going to the movies, sitting by the ocean or listening to the Red Sox, you just have to find that one thing. The best part about my life is that there’s something every week or every day that I look forward to.”

For Roy, sports has continued to be a big part of his life. He watched just about every minute of the World Cup and is a huge NASCAR fan. The Red Sox can be heard at his house just about every night and he’s closely followed the careers of former BU teammates.

“I’m a sports junkie,” Roy said. “I just love watching people compete at a high level.”

He enjoys trying new restaurants and considers himself quite the cook.

“It took me a while to realize I could do those kinds of things,” Roy said. “I can also probably be quite annoying when it comes to being in the kitchen.”

But even with all of his charitable work and the lives Roy has impacted through his speaking engagements, there are still tough times – like when he drove past Everett Arena on the way to the tournament yesterday.

“It’s still hard, very hard. I don’t think I’ll ever accept this injury, but I’m trying to make the best of it,” Roy said. “You can live a good life.”

And in the end, Roy realized his dream of playing college hockey.

“It may have been only 11 seconds,” Roy said. “But I proved that the little kid from Yarmouth, Maine, made it.”

(Tim Goodwin can be reached at 369-3375 or tgoodwin@theconcordinsider.com.)