Travis Roy, Activist Who Was Paralyzed Seconds Into First College Hockey Game, Dies at 45

Georgia Slater
·4-min read

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

Travis Roy, the former Boston University hockey player who was paralyzed during his first game and went on to become an advocate for spinal cord research, has died. He was 45.

Roy died in Vermont due to complications from a procedure he needed to maintain his quality of life, a family spokesperson told Boston TV station WCVB.

The Boston University athletic department also confirmed his death Thursday.

"It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the passing of Travis Roy. His story is the epitome of inspiration and courage, and he was a role model and a hero to so many people," the school wrote in a statement.

"Travis’ work and dedication toward 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," the school continued. "Our sincere thoughts are with his wonderful family as well as his vast support group of friends and colleagues."

Just 11 seconds into his debut game for BU on Oct. 20, 1995, Roy crashed headfirst into the boards after checking his opponent, cracking his fourth vertebra and leaving him a quadriplegic, according to ESPN.

RELATED: Massachusetts Man Paralyzed in Hockey Accident Raising Millions for Spinal Cord Injury Research and Equipment

Roy remained in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, however, he later regained movement in his right arm allowing him to control the joystick on his chair.

The late athlete used his injury for inspiration, and soon became a philanthropist for spinal cord injury treatment, giving as many as 40 motivational speeches a year, the AP reported.

In 1997, Roy created the Travis Roy Foundation which has since raised more than $9 million — half for research grants and the other to provide equipment for spinal cord injury survivors.

He first started skating at 20 months old and went to North Yarmouth Academy and Tabor Academy before heading to BU. Both of his early schools have named their rinks after him. In 1999, BU retired Roy's No. 24 and he graduated with a degree in communications the following spring, according to ESPN.

Derek Davis/ Getty Images

Following Roy's death this week, the hockey world mourned the loss of the inspiring athlete.

Boston Bruins president Cam Neely called Roy "the ultimate symbol of determination and courage" in a statement on Twitter Thursday.

RELATED: Boston University Hockey Player Travis Roy Honored 20 Years After the Accident That Left Him Paralyzed: 'My Life Does Have Value'

"The impact that Travis had on the New England hockey community is immeasurable, and his relentless advocacy for spinal cord research was inspiring," Neely wrote.

USA Hockey added in a statement: "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."

Several hockey players who were also paralyzed during games and looked to Roy as a role model went on to share their condolences on social media.

"Travis did so many little things and big things for so many people,'' Denna Laing, who was paralyzed during a hockey game before the 2016 NHL Winter Classic, wrote. "This is gutting, really truly sad.''

Jack Jablonski, a Minnesota high school hockey player who was paralyzed in 2011, also thanked Roy for being an inspiration.

"Travis Roy, you were my friend, mentor, role model and the most positive person I knew," he tweeted. "You have forever changed the SCI and hockey community. Thsnk [sic] you for taking the time to get to know each other. U r my hero. RIP Travis."