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By Robert Rosen
Hometown Weekly Staff
Not many people can tell you where they were and what they did on a specific day 20 years ago, but for Travis Roy, October 20, 1995 is a day that will forever be etched in his mind, not because it was the day he suffered a debilitating injury, but because it was the day he achieved his lifelong dream of playing Division 1 college hockey when he skated onto the ice for Boston University.
On Thursday, March 10, Roy told his story to a crowded auditorium at the Chickering School. While sad at times, Roy was able to put a positive spin on his life story, focusing on how he achieved his goals and has been able to accomplish so much despite his injury. He may be confined to a wheelchair, but he made it clear that his life hasn’t stopped and he has continued to set and achieve more goals and he has plenty of things to live for.
Roy was born and grew up in Maine, where his father managed the local ice arena and his mother was a teacher and principal. Because of his dad’s job, it was only natural that he would be given a pair of skates at a young age (Roy jokingly told the crowd at Chickering that they were figure skates and asked that no one repeat that to anyone). Right away he was a natural skater, and Roy spoke about playing all different sports growing up.
But hockey was always his favorite sport, and when his coaches and school counselors talked about the importance of setting goals when he got into high school, he decided to do so when he was 15.
Roy had three dream goals, as he put it. First, he wanted to play Division 1 college hockey. Second, he wanted to be able to play professional hockey following his collegiate career. He hoped to start off maybe in the AHL but ultimately he wanted to make the NHL. His third goal was lofty. He felt if he could get good enough at hockey to make the NHL as an American, then why not shoot to make the Olympic team?
Roy showed his parents his goals. His father explained that he would have to improve his grades to get into college. Roy said he had never really thought about that. School had always been hard for him as he had a slight form of dyslexia, but he went back to his room to work on his goals again.
He decided he needed to get at least a ‘B’ average through high school and to also score at least 1,000 on the SAT.
“I had a path,” Roy said. “I had a course from that point on…
“It all comes back to having pride. It means you tried your best.”
Roy told the crowd at Chickering that the summer after his junior year every major college contacted him. He had his ‘B’ average and he broke 1,000 on his SATs (“I had to take them five times,” he laughed.).
He remembers considering the University of Maine, his home state school. He talked about visiting Harvard and being impressed by everything they had to offer, but then he thought about it and didn’t think he’d ever be able to handle their academics.
But there was this other university right across the way in Boston, as he put it, that was the top college hockey program in the country and was coming off a national championship. Boston University would be Roy’s college destination.
Once again, Roy set some goals. This time he set two new ones for when he arrived at BU: maintain his eligibility and play in the first game of the season, something few freshmen do for a defending national champion.
But in the days leading up to the first game of the season, BU coach Jack Parker told Roy he would be playing in the game against the University of North Dakota.
“I still remember that day,” Roy said. “I remember the team meal. They had redone the locker room. They were raising the national championship banner. My family was there.”
Approximately two minutes into the game, BU scored to take the lead. Roy tells about the moment like it was yesterday. He recalls being tapped on the shoulder by Parker and told to enter the game. This was the moment he had been waiting for his whole life, the moment he had always dreamed about, the moment he knew he would never forget. It was at this moment that Roy had officially achieved his dream goal of playing Division 1 college hockey.
Roy tells what happened next as if he’s able to watch the replay while speaking. While his body was affected by the injury, his mind remains as sharp as ever. He is intelligent, able to remember the most minute details. The injury has not taken away his love of people, nor his ability to connect with them.
After the initial faceoff at center ice following Roy’s entering the game, the puck got shot into the offensive zone. A North Dakota player attempted to get the puck up against the boards and Roy did what he had done so many times, what he had been trained to do: he went to the puck and followed through to check his opponent. The opposing player attempted to move away and avoid the check and Roy only caught part of him and lost his balance, sliding head first into the boards.
Roy lay on the ice unable to move, telling the trainer that he couldn’t feel anything. He said he could feel his glove but he couldn’t feel it.
Knowing his family was in the stands, Roy asked for someone to get his dad and bring him down on the ice.
“Dad, I made it,” told his father as he lay motionless on the ice.
Roy had only played for 11 seconds, but he felt he had proven that he could do it to everyone, most importantly to himself. He said that he was always undersized for a hockey player but he loved the game and always tried his hardest, and that helped him accomplish something.
He had broken his fourth and fifth vertebrae, and would spend six months in a hospital after the injury. Today he is able to move his right bicep, but he has no other control over his arms and legs.
But Roy seems content with the life he has today. He established the Travis Roy Foundation, which helps people with spinal cord injuries and with research for spinal cord injuries. And, despite not being able to finish his collegiate hockey career, Roy was able to graduate from Boston University in an inspiring moment for all those in attendance.
“More than anything, I have so much love in my life,” Roy said.
Roy was in Dover because high school friend Shannon Leary, a Dover resident, is running the Boston Marathon with fellow Dover resident Caroline Melchionda for the Travis Roy Foundation.
Leary’s, husband, Angus, was Roy’s roommate at Tabor Academy, and Angus introduced Roy to the crowd by telling them that not much has changed about Roy since the accident.
“Everything changed… or did it?” Angus asked aloud. “Travis is still fun, loving and caring. He loves sports. He cares for the well-being of others… Travis was an inspiration then and now.”
If you are interested in supporting the Travis Roy Foundation and would like to do so by supporting either Leary or Melchionda, visit their fundraising pages:
www.crowdrise.com/travisroyboston2016/fundraiser/shannonleary1 or www.crowdrise.com/TravisRoyBoston2016/fundraiser/carolinemelchionda
Roy closed his story with a message to everyone in attendance.
“The first thing I’d do if I got out of this chair is hug my mom, dad, sister, nieces…” he said. “Don’t be afraid to give somebody a hug.”
Robert Rosen is an Editor for Hometown Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @roberterosen.