Published December 13, 2018
By GAIL LOWE
NORTH READING — Faced with the prospect of spending the rest of your life as a quadriplegic in a wheelchair would send many people into an abyss of self-pity and despair, but there are other stout-hearted souls who would use this unfortunate set of circumstances to help people.
That’s what Travis Roy did following his accident on Oct. 20, 1995 while playing ice hockey for Boston University. Eleven seconds into his first game, he slammed head first into the boards and fell to the ice. The accident severely damaged his fourth and fifth vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He was 20 years old at the time. He is now 43.
Roy visited North Reading High School Dec. 5 as part of an enrichment program to speak about his accident and share with students his story, its aftermath and how he turned tragedy into triumph. To this day, he has the good looks, luminous blue eyes and blond hair of a Beach Boy.
In 1997, after he had regained some of his strength, he established the Travis Roy Foundation and has raised millions of dollars to help other spinal cord injury victims purchase wheelchairs and other medical equipment needed to make their lives easier.
The money is also used to fund research for a cure. In addition, his foundation buys computers for those with spinal cord injuries, which allow for greater independence, particularly if the computers are equipped with voice recognition software. Roy, himself, uses the software.
“It allows me to work from anywhere,” he said. To date, 1,400 people have received help from Roy’s foundation, and in 2017 alone $1.7 million was raised.
Roy has also created partnerships with JetBlue, Numotion and other corporations.
“The challenge chose me”
Today, he gives motivational speeches all over the country about 40 weeks of the year.
“We usually choose the challenge, but the challenge chose me,” Roy told the students. The burning question to the promising hockey player was not “Why me?” but “How far can I take this?”
During his 40-minute talk in the school’s gymnasium, students sat in rapt attention while he spoke about his life (he was born and raised in Maine, studied at Yarmouth High School, North Yarmouth Academy, Tabor Academy and Boston University); his many struggles since the accident (including a 75-pound weight loss), his goals and desires (to help as many people as possible) and the (healing) power of love.
Emerging from darkness to light
Roy commented that following his accident there were many “dark days,” but the love of his family and friends helped him through the darkness until he finally emerged into a world of light.
“It was hard,” he said.
He also commented on the struggles of today’s youth, saying that kids have “insane pressure and anxieties,” largely due to social media.
Roy is all about promoting tolerance and told his audience that pride, love and respect outweigh everything else.
“No matter who you are — Christian, Muslim, Jew, gay, straight — we’re all the same,” he said. “Appreciate those differences.”
Always choose compassion
In addition, he advised the students to have compassion when they see someone with a disability. “Say hello (to the person),” he said. “Start a conversation.”
He also touched upon romance and talked about an attractive girl he had fallen in love with.
“Don’t be afraid of love,” he counseled. “That’s where the joy is. It’s the small moments that change lives.”
Asked what his life would be like now if he had not become paralyzed, Roy said that he would be teaching or working with kids.
From all outward appearances, he has realized his goal.
The Travis Roy Foundation enhances the lives of people with spinal cord injuries and their families by providing adaptive equipment grants. Visit TravisRoyFoundation.org or e-mail info@TravisRoyFoundation.org for more information. Travis Roy’s book, “Eleven Seconds: A Story of Tragedy, Courage & Triumph,” is available at amazon.com.