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Travis Roy: Motivational Speaker, Author, and Activist Inspires Buffalo Physicians

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Twenty-one years ago to the day, Maine-born Travis Roy took his first steps onto the ice as a D1 Boston University hockey freshman. He could have never anticipated that just 11 seconds later, his life would be forever changed.

On Oct. 20, faculty, staff, and friends of UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine were honored to hear Roy’s incredible story during their “grand rounds” — a time attending physicians typically use to teach residents and fellows. But this particular presentation was different.

Roy began his presentation by saying, “I’m sure it gets very academic in here. But this is a great chance to talk to you all a little about real life.”

He grew up in a small town in Maine dreaming about being a professional hockey player. He worked every day at his goal, and it paid off in high school as he was drafted to every top D1 hockey program in the nation — as well as the NHL. Knowing that he wanted to play D1 hockey, he accepted a position on Boston University’s championship team. The morning of his first game, he remembered waking up and thinking, “this is the best day of my life.”

Friends, family, and former coaches attended the game to show their support. As he took the ice, Roy was slammed into the boards within 11 seconds.

“I knew it right away,” he said. “My dad came on the ice and I said, ‘Dad, I’m in big trouble. My neck hurts and I can’t feel anything. But Dad, I made it.’”

Roy had fractured his fourth and fifth vertebrae, leaving him a quadriplegic at age 18.

“That’s the challenge that chose me,” he said. “There are times when we choose our challenges and times those challenges choose us. For that 11 seconds, I proved that a little kid from Maine had beat the odds, and no one can take that away from me.”

Roy went on to explain to the captive audience that having a positive attitude made a huge difference in coming to terms with his injury.

“As a patient, I can feel it,” he said. “There’s nothing that helps a patient more than a positive attitude from a doctor, nurse, [or other healthcare worker].”

Roy realized that his goals needed to change as he would never again be an elite hockey player. His goals were different, but he still had a lot to prove to everyone else — and to himself. He admitted that it was difficult to stay positive.

“I quickly realized I was one of the fortunate ones,” he said. “Sure, we all have things we want to change. So what do you do? You always have a choice when presented with a challenge.”

He explained that every day is a struggle to be independent, but he has worked hard to get as much independence as possible.

“Learning how to feed myself again was hard. It took the same amount of effort to move a piece of food from the plate to my mouth as it did to bench 275 pounds six months prior.”

Friends, family, and complete strangers helped him along his journey and encouraged him to share his story. Since the accident, he graduated from Boston University in just four years with a communications degree. He started the Travis Roy Foundation, raising $10 million for research and grants. He has also written a book about his journey and is currently in the process of writing his second book.

“I’m still the same Travis Roy I’ve always been,” he said in closing. “I’m just rolling through life instead of skating. I like to look at each day like a new face-off. Nothing is going to stand in my way.”

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Pictured: Dr. Joseph Kowalski presenting Travis Roy with a thank you gift