Former Boston University hockey player Travis Roy, who was paralyzed after an injury in 1995 and became a philanthropist for spinal cord injury treatment, has died at 45.
A family spokesperson told WCVB in Boston that Roy died in Vermont due to complications from a procedure he needed to maintain his quality of life.
Roy slid headfirst into the boards just 11 seconds into his first shift for BU on Oct. 20, 1995. He cracked his fourth vertebra, which left him a quadriplegic. Roy had since regained movement in his right arm, which he used to control the joystick that maneuvered his wheelchair.
“It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the passing of Travis Roy,” Boston University said in a statement. “His story is the epitome of inspiration and courage, and he was a role model and a hero to so many people. Travis’ work and dedication towards helping fellow spinal cord-injury survivors is nothing short of amazing. His legacy will last forever, not just within the Boston University community, but with the countless lives he has impacted across the country. Our sincere thoughts are with his wonderful family as well as his vast support group of friends and colleagues.”
— BU Athletics (@BUAthletics) October 29, 2020
In 1997, Roy started The Travis Roy Foundation to help spinal cord injury survivors live more independent lives through adaptive equipment grants and funding scientific research.
The foundation has raised more than $9 million — with more than $4.7 million going to research grants and the other half to provide equipment for those with spinal cord injuries. In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of his injury, Boston University established a Travis Roy professorship in rehabilitation sciences with $2.5 million from anonymous donors for the foundation.
The son of a Maine hockey rink manager who began skating when he was 20 months old, Roy went to North Yarmouth Academy and Tabor Academy before enrolling at BU. Both high schools have named their rinks after him.
BU retired his No. 24 in 1999; he graduated from the school with a degree in communications the next spring.
Among the players on the 1995-96 BU Terriers team were future NHLers Chris Drury, Jay Pandolfo, Shawn Bates and Mike Grier. Coach Jack Parker is an inductee in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame; Olympic hero Mike Eruzione was an assistant coach.
“It’s so sad for so many reasons — not just the athletic end of it, but what his life could have been,” Eruzione told The Associated Press on Thursday night. “To see a life changed in such a direction because of 11 seconds.
“But what he did with it afterward was incredible,” Eruzione added. “Such an inspiration. He could have folded the tent. He could have said, ‘This is it.’ But he chose another path in his life, and he raised millions of dollars.
“It just sucks, that at 45, that it’s over.”
USA Hockey issued a statement on Roy, saying: “We are saddened to hear about the passing of Travis Roy, who transformed his personal tragedy into a beacon of hope for millions of people in the game & beyond.”
His story touched every corner of the hockey world, but resonated loudly in Boston. The Boston Bruins donated to his foundation through the years and in 2015 signed him to a one-day contract before he dropped the ceremonial puck prior to a home game. Boston mayor Marty Walsh also declared that Oct. 20 was “Travis Roy Day” in 2015.
“Travis Roy was the ultimate symbol of determination and courage,” former Bruins star and current team president Cam Neely said. “The impact that Travis had on the New England hockey community is immeasurable, and his relentless advocacy for spinal cord research was inspiring.”
Ray Bourque, another ex-Bruin and Hockey Hall of Famer, said he and his wife were “honored to have known such a great man who helped so many others.”
Jack Jablonski, a Minnesota high school hockey player who was paralyzed when he crashed headfirst into the boards in 2011, said Roy was “my hero” in his post on Twitter.
“Travis Roy, you were my friend, mentor, role model and the most positive person I knew,” Jablonski posted. “You have forever changed the SCI and hockey community. Thank you for taking the time to get to know each other. U r my hero. RIP Travis.”
Denna Laing, who was paralyzed during a women’s hockey game prior to the 2016 NHL Winter Classic, also tweeted her thanks.
“Travis did so many little things and big things for so many people,” she wrote. “This is gutting, really truly sad.”
Travis did so many little things and big things for so many people. This is gutting, really truly sad. Travis visited me when I was still in the hospital and has continued to be a big support in my recovery. Wow. #ThankYouTravis pic.twitter.com/a3xLwxhTC6
— Denna Laing (@dlaing14) October 29, 2020
From his wheelchair, Roy gave motivational speeches to help raise money for the foundation. The message he shared: Do the best with what you have and don’t dwell on your misfortune.
“I like to say the first 20 years I had a life that was full of passion and the last 20 I’ve had a life full of purpose,” Roy said in an interview with the AP shortly after turning 40. “The dream is to have both at the same time, but I’m fortunate. I’ll take either one.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.