Our Sargent community experienced a sudden and difficult loss yesterday. Our friend and colleague Travis Roy died on Thursday from complications related to his spinal cord injury. He was 45.
Many of you know Travis’s history as a former BU hockey player. Twenty-five years ago, eleven seconds into his first hockey game at BU, Travis crashed headfirst into the boards, severely damaging his spinal cord and paralyzing him from the neck down. From this tragedy, Travis built an unparalleled legacy, due in no small part to his grace and perseverance. Travis returned to BU to continue his degree, later wrote a book about his experience, and went on to establish the Travis Roy Foundation. Through this foundation, he has helped more than 2,100 individuals who have been paralyzed and donated nearly $5 million to spinal cord research.
The loss of Travis is especially deep for those in the Sargent community who have known him for the past quarter century. Sargent Lecturer Larry Venis was the athletic trainer at Walter Brown Arena and one of the first people on the ice after Travis was injured. When Travis returned to BU, 10 months after his injury, he worked with Sargent specialists to continue his recovery. He went to our 6th floor clinic for physical therapy with Professor Terry Ellis and also worked with Professor Karen Hutchinson. Current and former physical therapy and occupational therapy faculty helped Travis rehabilitate his right wrist so he could operate the joystick to steer his wheelchair. And Sargent occupational therapists helped set up Travis’s dorm room, incorporating technology and ergonomics to make him more comfortable.
When Travis spoke at a 2015 event in his honor, he told the crowd assembled at Agganis Arena that he would do anything in his power “to make dreams for increased mobility and greater independence come true.” He was hopeful and proud that whenever a “cure” for spinal cord injury was developed, he and his foundation would have had “fingerprints” on it. It was on this night that I announced Sargent College had established a professorship in Travis’s name. The Travis M. Roy Professorship provides specific support and direction for innovative research, exemplary training, and scientific leadership, pursuing the goal of helping individuals with a wide range of neurological disorders. A year later, we named Professor LaDora Thompson the inaugural Travis Roy Professor.
“I’m very proud to be the inaugural Travis M. Roy Professor in Rehabilitation Science. The greatest joy has been the many opportunities to connect with Travis professionally through his Foundation and as a friend. His passion and positive energy for life will continue through this Professorship as it enables the ability to move science forward when there’s something critical to be done immediately. The real value is that it gives me the ability to pursue scientific projects that I might not otherwise be able to do.” – Travis M. Roy Professor LaDora Thompson
Just over a week ago, on October 20, we marked the 25th anniversary of Travis’ injury. His Foundation planned a year-long celebration of Travis and his legacy, with supporters and followers encouraged to share their stories about Travis.
I’ll share mine here. When Travis learned of the anonymous gift that would establish the Travis Roy Professorship, his excitement and appreciation were palpable. He would now be able to move his Foundation to dedicated office space in Boston and hire staff to assist with day-to-day business operations. When Professor Thompson was named the inaugural Travis Roy Professor, he could not have been a more gracious host. Travis had an indomitable spirit, particularly when discussing the promise of spinal cord repair and regeneration, with a keen mastery of the science involved. For me, Travis’ legacy is clear – perseverance and selflessness in the face of tragedy and a life-long passion for helping others.
Travis will always have a special place in the Sargent community, and his legacy will live on in the thousands of spinal cord injury survivors he and his foundation have helped live more independent and hopeful lives and the many more we will continue to serve.
I join the entire BU community in mourning the loss of Travis Roy and celebrating his extraordinary life’s work.
Dean of Sargent College