Life can change in a second. A reality and a fact that everyone knows but one that is still difficult to remember when skating through life. Unless, however, one has the privilege of hearing Travis Roy’s powerful perspective.
Growing up in Yarmouth, Maine (and the son of an ice rink manager and a homemaker/teacher/principal), Travis Roy spent a large part of his childhood on ice. Skating was his passion; he had ample access and opportunity to practice and perfect his skills, and he set some ambitious goals early on. “I remember as a freshman in high school, I wrote out my goals. One of them was to play on the US Olympic Team one day. I thought, ‘Someone has to play on those teams. Why not me?’ From that night on, I had a plan. I knew it was up to me to make the sacrifices necessary to obtain my goals.”
Sacrifice he did and Travis grew to become a master in his sport. He prioritized two main motivating factors: desire and pride. “My desire was to see how good I could be, how fast I could skate. Pride is knowing that you tried your best, knowing that you didn’t let yourself down. It means having a reasonable and justified self-respect. I worked hard every single day.”
With his goals set high and motivated by his deep beliefs, Travis earned himself a spot on the Boston University hockey lineup. One of only four freshmen selected to play in the opening game on October 20, 1995, Travis recalls it as “the best day of my life.”
“I remember every detail about the pre-game experience. I remember walking in and seeing the custom-made sticks, the jerseys with our names on them. I said to myself, ‘I finally made it.’”
Eleven seconds into the game, Travis and his dreams crashed into the boards. A cracked fourth vertebra paralyzed him immediately from the neck down. In an instant, his future, his life, his goals were brought to an immediate halt.
No one would have blamed Travis Roy if he had curled into his cocoon of fate and bemoaned his story’s plot. But he didn’t. He re-authored his story and it is that story that impacts people far more than a successful hockey career ever would.
“A broken neck was the challenge that chose me. What we do with our challenges is what defines us.”
After months of hospitals and treatments and therapies, Travis returned to Boston University as a student. His first encounter in the cafeteria was particularly poignant. “I wanted to go back to my room and hide. There was such a vibrant energy in that room and I didn’t feel as if I fit in anymore. I gave myself a pep talk and told myself to ‘just push the joystick forward, Trav, and go through the line.’”
He did. He turned the scar of sitting alone that day into a powerful message to his audience. “Simple gestures such as making eye contact, a smile, inviting someone into conversation- these things convey so much. They are what keep us motivated.”
Acknowledging that there were dark days and periods of sadness in his journey, Travis boils his truths down to three main values that can be helpful to both adolescents and adults: respect, peer pressure and love.
“Some people say respect must be earned. I disagree. I think that when you meet someone for the very first time, you should show them respect. We could use more respect and less judging.”
He also believes that each person has a “voice on the inside” that exists to protect them from peer pressure or poor decisions. “If you have the courage to listen to it, 99% of the time that voice will guide you to the right place.”
And lastly, Travis believes that the ultimate lesson he has learned throughout his journey is one of love. “The emotions that lie inside of you, they are the most important. There are so many different types of love. The true wealth in life is not found in money but in surrounding yourself with people you love and showing them your feelings.”
“As I sit in this wheelchair, I am so fortunate. Now I’m just rolling through life rather than skating through it.”
Question and Answer Session
Q: What are your future goals?
TR: I went back to school and studied public speaking. I started the Travis Roy Foundation in the hopes of raising money that will help develop medical advancements for spinal cord injuries. I know I will never get out of this chair but if I could just have a little more dexterity someday, be able to use my left hand as well as my right… small changes would change my life.
I’d like to add one more chapter in my life. I admire people who make changes in their lives when they’re unhappy. It’s easy to keep doing the same thing.
Q: What’s your relationship with hockey?
TR: I’m broken-hearted. My first love was hockey. I like to watch it from afar but it’s hard.
Q: On Pride…
TR: Pride is what holds a person accountable. It’s self-accountability. I could be home right now feeling sorry for myself but pride pushes you through dark times. It’s what tells you that you’re letting yourself down.
Q: On Faith…
TR: In the beginning, I received thousands of cards from people who said they were praying for me. I used to wonder, ‘If all these people were praying for me, why wasn’t I getting any better?’ I was hoping for a physical cure. I realized later that the reason I am able to do what I do is that those prayers strengthened me. They helped protect me from turning inward. I’m still figuring out my faith, to be honest. But I do believe in a higher power.
TR: People often ask me, “What would be the first thing you would do if you could get out of that wheelchair?” My answer is always the same: “I would go and hug my mother.”
Thank you, Travis Roy, for sharing your inspirational and powerful message of strength and hope with our St. Thomas Aquinas High School community. We are blessed to have you as a witness to life’s deepest messages: human willpower can triumph over adversity, compassion is an affordable commodity, simple dignities (eye contact, a smile) are free to bestow but bring the greatest return on investment, setting goals is a powerful tool in achieving dreams, and love is life’s greatest gift.
We were blessed to have you in our STA home. Your story will have a lifelong impact. Thank you.