A Personal Remembrance of Travis Roy

10/30/1999 — Boston, Massachusetts Travis Roy’s Hockey Jersey Number is retired by Boston University Athletics. Photo by Albert L’Etoile for Boston University Photography

On October 20,1995, Boston University freshman, Travis Roy of  Augusta, Maine, skated onto the ice for his first game as a Terrier hockey player.  Eleven seconds later, after a crash against the boards, Travis became a quadriplegic. It was front page news.  Heartbreaking news.  On October 29, 2020, Travis Roy died. In those intervening 25 years, Travis created a legacy of bravery, compassion and accomplishment. What I knew about Travis’s accident and subsequent activities came mostly from newspaper coverage, but also from two other sources.  A moving memoir his freshman roommate, Dan Ronan, wrote in one of my classes, and then from my personal experiences with Travis, as a student in my writing course, fall 1999. I must begin with Dan Ronan’s memoir for context. It has stayed with me until this very moment. 

Dan wrote with great sensitivity and heart about that day in 1995.  The teammates left their dorm room together and headed for the game, but only Dan returned.  With insightful observations, he describes a typically messy dorm room: clothes, sports gear, books thrown everywhere. He reflects on how life can change in 11 seconds.  Travis would never come back to the room, never pick up his clothes or hunt for his books to study. Essentially, Dan’s return to the room is a snapshot of the end of an era for Dan and his teammate and already good friend, Travis Roy. Dan Ronan’s haunting memoir is always with me, when I think of or read about Travis.

After a year of rehabilitation, Travis returned to BU. In fall 1999, he enrolled in my undergrad writing course. With Dan’s memoir as a backdrop, I had kept up with Travis’s life. He’d written an autobiography, Eleven Seconds [with Sports Illustrator writer, E.M. Swift], founded The Travis Roy Foundation[currently having raised $9 million] to support and improve the lives of paraplegics and quadriplegics], as well as become a motivational speaker [eventually giving 40 speeches annually].

When I saw his name on the course roster, I was excited about finally getting to meet Travis in person, to get to know him through our semester together. I was also a little anxious. I wanted to make him feel comfortable in my class, but wasn’t sure how to do that. I wondered about the logistics for him in terms of class participation and submitting assignments—typical “teacher” concerns, but with so much more weight attached to them.  

I remember the first day of class. Travis entered the classroom in his wheelchair and pulled alongside the row closest to the door.  I read names aloud, as I always do, to acquaint myself with who’s who in the class. And so, began my course introduction. Afterwards, Travis approached my desk and introduced himself, laying out how he would take notes and submit his assignments. He said apologetically that  because of the book, he’d sometimes have to miss class in order to promote it. We had an informal conversation about how he was doing. It was easy.  He made it easy.  He was gracious and warm. Travis was as impressive on that first day, as was the list of accomplishments I had in my head about him.

Through the semester, Travis was an active class participant, attentive, humorous at times, always met deadlines, worked hard.  A good student and a young man of character and commitment. We became increasingly comfort with each other.  I remember we had planned an office-hour meeting about one of his assignments.  He called to apologize because he couldn’t keep it.  He had a press conference scheduled with Robert Redford’s son, Jamie, who was interested in perhaps adapting Eleven Seconds into a screenplay. I told him I was sick of so many students using the old I-have-press-conference-with-Robert-Redford’s-son excuse—we both howled. I think we had a similar sense of humor. We enjoyed our bantering.

On the last day of class, as everybody left, Travis stayed behind, until it was just us in the room.  He told me how hard it had been to come back to BU that semester, because by now, all of his friends had graduated and moved on with their lives. He missed them, and said that their being gone was a reminder of his losses. Travis said finally that my class was the only bright spot in the semester, and he thanked me. I hugged him, and yes, welled-up. 

October 2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the accident, and in light of Travis’s many extraordinary accomplishments, this coming year would be a celebration of his life. In anticipation of the year of celebration, just days before his unexpected death, I wrote the following on a friend’s FB Page: 

When Travis came back to BU after his accident and rehabilitation, he was in one of my courses. During that semester, he was an inspiration to the other students and to me. Travis had been through so much, and there he was amongst us, with humor and a generosity of spirit, which I have never forgotten. Yes, let’s celebrate Travis Roy, now and always. 

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By Professor Dorothy Clark, Faculty Advisor for The COMmunicator

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