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Travis Roy Speaks on Campus Tomorrow

Former Terrier on defying the odds


Travis Roy (COM’00) has become one of the nation’s most prominent advocates for people with spinal cord injuries. Photo courtesy of Travis Roy

Just 11 seconds into his first hockey game at BU, freshman Travis Roy crashed headfirst into the boards. The horrifying images from that October 1995 accident were broadcast around the country. In an instant, Roy’s fourth cervical vertebra was shattered, severely damaging his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.

Now a quadriplegic with limited control of his right bicep, Roy (COM’00) has become one of the nation’s most prominent advocates for people with spinal cord injuries. A motivational speaker and founder of the nonprofit Travis Roy Foundation, which supports those with spinal cord injuries and provides grants for spinal cord injury research, he travels across the country speaking to doctors, patients, and caregivers.

Tomorrow, Roy returns to BU to deliver the fourth annual Meredith E. Drench Lecture at Sargent College, titled Defying the Odds: Rehabilitation and Perseverance after Spinal Cord Injury. The lecture series was established in 2009 by Drench (SAR’72), a behavioral specialist, and focuses on the psychosocial aspects of rehabilitation.

“We felt that Travis’ personal story of the challenges he has faced and the way he and others have dealt with them would give our students and others important insight into the psychosocial ramifications of injury and subsequent rehabilitation,” says Gloria Waters, dean of Sargent College.

After his injury, Roy underwent extensive rehabilitation, and he says he is excited about speaking to Sargent students because of his own experiences—both positive and negative—with physical therapists.

He recalls an experience a few years back with a young physical therapist he thought did not have the knowledge of anatomy or the experience required to help him the way he needed. Roy became frustrated and shared that with her. “I didn’t think what she was doing was right with some of the therapies,” he says. “It was upsetting to be working with someone who didn’t do their homework.”

But Roy also had many positive experiences during his rehabilitation. He was taken from the hockey rink that October night to Boston Medical Center, where he stayed for four months. He was later transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a facility specializing in spinal cord injuries. His first day at Shepherd, Roy recalls, he looked up to discover butterflies painted on the ceiling. “I couldn’t help but smile,” he says. After staring at BMC’s white cork ceiling tiles all day for so long, he was buoyed to realize that “someone had finally thought about what I’d been looking at for four months.”

The importance of those small but significant acts is something Roy hopes to impress upon Sargent students. “When you’re going through such a traumatic experience and everything is such a big deal,” he says, “those little gestures that people think of, they kind of get you through the day.”

A year after his accident, Roy returned to BU to pursue a degree in mass communication. He lived on campus, and acknowledges that while his college career was not easy, he is “really proud of how the school, students, and faculty really turned my story into something I like to consider a success story.”

In 1998, with Sports Illustrated writer E. M. Swift, he published his experience in Eleven Seconds: A Story of Tragedy, Courage, and Triumph.

Today, with the help of personal care attendants, Roy lives independently in Boston. He travels often to give speeches and is fortunate to have a voice-activated computer, which helps in his work with the foundation. A few times a year, he paints using his mouth. At Alumni Weekend’s 65th Annual Alumni Awards in October 2011, Roy received two honors, the University’s Young Alumni Award and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Communication.

He is especially proud of his work with the Travis Roy Foundation, which he launched in 1997. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $2.5 million in grants to individuals to help them live more independent lives. Recent grants include $665 to one recipient for vehicle modifications and $7,100 to another for a ceiling lift. Other grants have funded the purchase of wheelchairs, computers, mattresses, and shower chairs.

Roy says he started the foundation as a way to give back. He counts himself fortunate that because his injury was covered nationally, he received financial support from celebrities and people around the country.

“I met people on the rehab floor who didn’t have insurance or support from their families,” he recalls. “All they needed was a ramp to get back in the house or a piece of equipment. These grants are not only changing the life of the paralyzed person, but changing the life of their loved ones. The husband can go to work on his own, or the caregiver no longer has to use their back to lift someone into bed. There is usually a domino effect with each grant we give out.”

For those facing a challenge similar to his, Roy has some advice. “When something is a challenge, realize that things could be worse. Recognize what the challenge is and then face it. It helps to have good family and friends around you, but at some point you have to find the inner desire, that sheer will that will pull you through it,” he says. “Have the mental strength to move on, and don’t stay home and pout.”

The Meredith E. Drench Lecture is at Sargent College, 635 Commonwealth Ave., Room 101, at 4 p.m., tomorrow, Wednesday, April 4, 2012. A reception follows in the Setterberg Lounge, second floor. All members of the BU community are invited to attend.

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

4 Comments on Travis Roy Speaks on Campus Tomorrow

  • Mo on 04.03.2012 at 9:43 am

    Have followed his story from the night of his injury on the evening news. At the time we were living just outside Boston with a beautiful 18 mos old daughter. She now is a freshman at BU. Our son wanted to read Eleven Seconds for HS summer reading project 2 yrs ago, and we all have read it and were so inspired by Travis’ courage and determination. All the best and thank you for continuing to inspire and ‘paying it forward’. God Bless!

  • Elizabeth Selleck on 04.03.2012 at 11:05 am

    As an alum of SPH ’95 and someone who broke her neck in a 1979, car accident I feel a great affinity with you Travis and am glad for the University that you’ll be speaking. I hope to make it to this event. Good luck!

  • Susan on 04.04.2012 at 6:08 pm

    I just heard Travis speak on NPR and was moved to tears. We all need to remember how lucky we are if we are in good health and can move all our limbs, and can see, hear, speak and think clearly. So many people are worse off than we are and it is so easy to get caught up in petty complaints in daily life. It is important to remember that others don’t have it so easy and realize that one’s life can indeed change *dramatically* in a matter of seconds. “There but for the grace of God go I”. I remember clearly the night that Travis was injured and to think how he has lived his life since is truly inspiring. Today I feel humbled by Travis’ story and am motivated to try to enjoy each day as it it were my last. And not take things for granted…

  • Ashley on 04.19.2012 at 12:23 pm

    I was a COM freshman the same year as Travis and remember the accident like it was yesterday. It’s great to see how he has turned his experience into something so awesome. A truly amazing spirit.

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