“Change is a challenge, and you have to face your challenges, no matter what they are, whether you chose them or they chose you,” said Travis Roy, a hockey player who was paralyzed from the neck down in his first shift of college hockey at Boston University. Roy spoke on Tuesday night at the ’62 Center in a lecture sponsored by the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.
Eleven seconds into his first shift as a Div. I college athlete, Roy hit the boards at full force and was destined for a life as a quadriplegic. After extensive surgery and 10 months of rehab, Roy returned to BU and completed school. In 1997, he and his family started the Travis Roy Foundation, which helps fund spinal cord research and provides grants to paraplegics and quadriplegics.
“There are times in our life when we choose our challenges and other times when the challenges simply choose us. It is what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who we are and more importantly who we can and will become,” Roy said.
Beginning his presentation with a short video clip introducing his story, Roy continued by emphasizing the importance of setting goals and reevaluating them when challenges come your way. His freshman year in high school, Roy compiled his first list of goals, one of which was to play Div. I college hockey.
Roy said, “When your dreams are big, there are always challenges. The question is how much do you want to make [your goals] happen? How far will you go to make them happen? When you close your eyes do you see them taking shape?”
Telling a bit about his past, Roy spoke of the enormous role that hockey played in his childhood life growing up in Maine. “I lived, breathed and dreamed one thing: hockey,” Roy said.
Roy continued by describing the choices he made in order to fulfill his goals. He moved away from home to attend Tabor Academy for high school, and worked to maintain a decent GPA so that he could be recruited to a Div. I school. He added, “For 20 years of my life, I pretty much chose my challenges.” He accepted a scholarship from BU, home to one of the top college ice hockey programs in the country.
Addressing the audience, Roy asked, “How many times have you found yourself on the threshold, about to make something happen? Did you make the leap? Or did you let your fears hold you back?” He continued, “What happens when you don’t take that leap? Nothing.”
Describing the thrills of being nearly a celebrity on a campus that idolized the sport of hockey, Roy expressed his emotions at the start of his first college game. “Two minutes in, I felt a tap on my back. It was my moment.”
Roy continued his presentation with a second video clip showing the moment of his accident, which occurred on Friday, October 28, 1995. Roy said, “I told my dad, Ã¢â‚¬ËœMy neck hurts, I can’t feel it, can’t move anything. But Dad, I made it.’ I had stepped onto the ice for a Div. I college ice hockey game, and no one could take that away from me. I had accomplished my goal, my dream. I had proven that this little kid from Maine had beaten the odds.” He added, “At the same time, challenge had chosen me. And now my goals would have to change.”
Emphasizing inner strength, Roy noted the important the support of his family and friends played in pulling him through the months he spent lying face-up in a hospital bed. He mentioned how painful it was to know that they were suffering for him while he lay in the hospital, but how grateful he was for their encouragement. He said, “It was hard not to be positive when I saw the support and assistance that my family and I received. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised on my behalf.”
Roy described his emotions when it first occurred to him that he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t depressing. But then I thought of the alternatives, like lying in hospital bed. I thought about people who had it worse off, and I realized I was one of the fortunate ones. I still had so much to be thankful for, so much to live for, so many goals yet to make.”
Explaining the new goals he set for himself, Roy said that he simply wanted to be able to have a life again. He recalled his first major step towards doing so: feeding himself a toasted bagel with cream cheese and butter. “It took the same concentration as it used to for me to bench press 160 pounds,” said Roy. “But it was then that I realized my limitations were only what I decided they were going to be.”
Drawing his lecture to a close, Roy said, “It’s the people that know themselves the best who are generally the most successful. It’s our values that make us who we are.” Roy concluded his speech saying, “I can still laugh, I can still cry, I can still enjoy the people around me. I’m still the same Travis Roy I’ve always been, except now I’m rolling through life instead of skiing through it.”
Addressing the audience, he added, “Having pride in everything you do can make most anything possible. Having a positive attitude will get you through some of the darkest hours of your life. This little kid from Maine did make it, and nothing will stand in my way.”