Nearly 20 years after paralyzing hockey injury, Roy turns 40
Apr. 18, 2015
BOSTON (AP) — Fifteen rows up, Travis Roy watched from his wheelchair as the goalie for his former team scored for the opponent in the NCAA championship game.
He could sense Matt O'Connor's heartbreak. The mistake tied the game. A few minutes later, Boston University's hopes for this year's hockey title ended in a 4-3 loss to Providence.
"I just wish I could give him a hug and give him 20 years of wisdom," Roy said after O'Connor dropped the puck and put it in his own net. "Matt was devastated, but I also know he'll be just fine."
Roy was a towheaded, 20-year-old freshman with a bright future when he began his first shift for BU. Eleven seconds later, he was a quadriplegic. He had crashed headfirst into the boards after checking an opponent in the 1995-96 opener.
On Friday, he turned 40 — nearly half those years in a wheelchair.
"It's as clear today as it was almost 20 years ago," said his father, Lee. "Some days it seems like an eternity, and others like it just happened yesterday."
Travis' hopes of playing in the Olympics or NHL, or both, are long gone.
"I just thought the research would move along and by the time I was 40 I might have a chance of some normalcy again," Roy said in an interview with The Associated Press, "some kids and a wife and not living with 24-hour home care anymore."
He's regained little movement since the injury. He can control the joystick that maneuvers his chair but has no feeling below the middle of his chest.
He does have the gratitude of thousands through his 40 motivational speeches a year and his foundation that funds research and the purchase of equipment for paralysis victims. And he has this perspective: Do the best with what you have and don't dwell on your misfortune.
"I make a nice living, travel the country," said Roy, who lives near BU. "I like to say the first 20 years I had a life that was full of passion and the last 20 I've had a life full of purpose. The dream is to have both at the same time, but I'm fortunate. I'll take either one."
Roy was in the stands for two other hockey championship games.
Knowing he'd play for the Terriers, he watched them beat Maine in Providence in 1995. But in the opener the next season, he was paralyzed minutes after seeing the championship banner raised Oct. 20.
The following season, he was in Milwaukee watching BU lose the title game to North Dakota, the opponent the night he was injured.
One of Roy's linemates on his only college shift was Chris Drury, who went on to a 12-year NHL career with Roy's No. 24 on his stick.
"There are little thoughts that, 'Boy, I played with Chris that night of my injury. Maybe I could have been on his team or an opposing team at that level,'" Roy said.
But he doesn't dwell on what might have been.
"There's times when it's kind of fun to think about it," he said. "It's also kind of sad to not know the answer."
O'Connor also put Roy's number on his stick after he suffered a collapsed lung two years ago as a freshman. He listened with players from all the Frozen Four teams when Roy spoke at Fenway Park on April 8, three days before the championship game in Boston.
"It was pretty emotional," O'Connor said. "He's been a real inspiration to me and a lot of the BU family."
Providence captain Ross Mauermann heard Roy "telling us to appreciate every moment you've got. You never know what's going to happen."
Roy said he was "honored to do it."
"But it was also a little bit heartbreaking," he added, "to be speaking to the teams that were kind of living the dream that I had hoped for and worked for. And how did I end up being the guy in the wheelchair? But you do get older, you do get a little wiser."
Last winter, he overcame a serious bout of pneumonia.
"We all consider ourselves very fortunate that we still have Travis," his father said. "You can take away what the body can do, but the mind has not changed a bit. And he still loves life."
Roy first skated when he was 20 months old. His father managed the North Yarmouth Academy rink in Maine. In October 1998, it was renamed the Travis Roy Ice Arena.
In May 2000, he graduated from BU with a degree in communications.
"I think all the time how grateful I am," Roy said. "The thing that goes through my mind every once in a while is, 'Thank God it wasn't a brain injury.' I don't want any pity."
He has his low moments, but he jokes around, pokes fun at himself and has a strong support group — family, friends and former BU coach Jack Parker.
"It does feel good to know that I'm still having an impact in a lot of different ways," he said, "that my life has value."
On Friday night, his 40th birthday, he spoke at a Connecticut high school where the audience sang "Happy Birthday." His Facebook account, email and phone were loaded with good wishes.
He feels an obligation not to disappoint those who have helped him — the youngster who emptied his piggy bank, the couple who donated money set aside for their honeymoon.
"For Travis, it's very, very important that people see him in a very positive light," his father said.
Roy still hopes the research his foundation helps fund will help him: "If I just got the function of my hands and arms back that would drastically change my life."
At the NCAA championship game, he had an excellent view of O'Connor's misplay. He saw the disappointment.
He also saw the future.
"He'll be just fine. I just sat up there wishing that he would know that," Roy said. "I just wish I could give him part of what I've learned."