Maxwell Surprenant interviews Travis Roy at the 2018 Commonwealth Avenue Charity Classic.(Image courtesy of Maxwell Surprenant)
Saint Sebastian's School

Column: Remembering Travis Roy — A story of courage, determination, love and hope

Travis Roy, a fierce hockey player who tragically became a quadriplegic in his first collegiate hockey game for Boston University in 1995, and who proved to be a greater force off the ice as a philanthropist and motivational speaker, died unexpectedly on October 29 at the age of 45.

I had the honor of meeting Roy twice, and both times were unforgettable. 

The first time, I was in eighth grade when Roy visited my school as a guest speaker. He captivated me, my peers, teachers and faculty as he shared his inspirational story during his annual visit to The St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Massachusetts.

Roy graduated from Tabor Academy in 1995 and received an ice hockey scholarship to Boston University. However, just eleven seconds into his first shift, Roy suffered a paralyzing injury and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

At 20 years old, Roy had to reinvent himself and find a new mission. Blessed with a caring family and supportive friends, Roy was able to overcome obstacles and become a nonprofit leader and inspirational speaker. 

In his speech, Roy willingly and lovingly shared his experience and the lessons he’d learned along the way. Roy stressed the importance of setting goals and working hard to obtain them.

He talked about how he decided to be more outgoing and reach out to more people. He encouraged students to accept everyone — even people they don’t know or people who they see as “different.” He also reminded students to love and appreciate people in their lives.

The St. Sebastian’s School considered Roy as a special friend. Every year since the accident, for 24 years, The St. Sebastian School and Tabor Academy competed against each other in the Travis Roy Cup, an annual fundraising hockey game.

The ticket proceeds were directed to the Travis Roy Foundation, which aim is to help support spinal cord injury survivors and raise funds for research towards a cure. The foundation also provides Quality of Life Grants so that patients and their families can purchase needed assistive technology and adaptive equipment like wheelchairs.

According to the Travis Roy Foundation website, since Roy founded the charity in 1997, the organization has awarded nearly $5 million in research grants towards finding a cure.

The second time I met Roy was when I was covering the 4th Annual Commonwealth Avenue Charity Classic in August 2018, a benefit hockey competition between alumni hockey players from rival schools Boston College and Boston University.

A great rivalry can make a hockey game exciting, but it’s even better when both sides share the same goal. The annual competition held at BU’s Walter Brown Arena raises money for the Travis Roy Foundation, Compassionate Care ALS and the Pete Frates Home Health Initiative. 

Roy, who proved approachable and friendly, displayed enjoyment of the strong competition. Moreover, he expressed sentiments of greater purpose and gratitude. 

“This is just the best of the hockey world,” he said. “Both schools have a lot of great hockey players. The talent is impressive, and the fact that they come out to support good causes is a big deal.” 

But the truth is that Travis Roy was the big deal. After Roy’s accident, he could have given up, but that was not his spirit. He changed direction and goals and dedicated his life to finding a cure for spinal cord injuries. 

On his journey, he helped and supported others and inspired the world — and me.