Travis Roy: ‘Challenges define who we are’

CARRABASSETT VALLEY – Travis Roy knew his life had fundamentally changed the moment he crashed into the boards 11 seconds into his first game wearing a Boston University hockey uniform.

Travis Roy speaks at the 2011 Maine Schoolsite Health Promotion Conference.
Travis Roy

“There are times we choose our challenges, and there are other times our challenges simply choose us,” Roy said June 30 at the Maine Schoolsite Health Promotion Conference held at Sugarloaf Mountain. “Those challenges define who we are.”

Roy’s address wrapped up the Health Promotion Conference, where 148 school nurses, guidance counselors, teachers, administrators, food service specialists and others from 24 Maine school districts gathered for four days of professional development focused on fostering wellness in the school environment.

Roy – who became paralyzed from the neck down after that fateful crash into the boards in 1995 – had lived his life continually setting goals for himself and following through.

As a high school freshman, the Yarmouth native made a list of goals for himself. He specified the number of goals he would score on the ice his freshman and sophomore years in high school. He added his dreams of playing Division I college hockey, playing in the NHL and taking the ice for the U.S. Olympic hockey team.

“The only thing more important than sitting down and writing out those goals is figuring out the motivating factors,” Roy said. “It all comes back to figuring out that passion. Then, it comes down to, how far can I take it?”

By the time Roy reached his senior year of high school, he had his pick of Division I hockey teams to join. He chose Boston University’s.

Once on the team, Roy continued to adjust his goals. Only four of six freshmen on the team were to play in the first game of the season against the University of North Dakota. Roy sought to be one of those four. Then, his attention turned to stepping onto the ice.

That moment came two minutes into the game, when his coach tapped him on the shoulder.

“It was the tap on the shoulder that I had been waiting my whole life for,” Roy said. “It was my moment.”

The moment was to be a brief one, but Roy had achieved one of the major goals to which he had devoted his life.

“I had stepped onto the ice for a Division I college hockey team, and no one could take that away from me,” he said. “For those 11 seconds, I had proven that this little kid from Yarmouth, Maine, had beaten the odds.”

In an instant, that kid from Yarmouth went from playing Division I college hockey to, for two months, breathing with the help of a ventilator and communicating by blinking his eyes.

“My challenge had chosen me, and my goals would have to change,” Roy said.

Roy was determined to improve his condition as much as possible and continue to live a life of setting goals and achieving them. He was, after all, the same person, just facing different circumstances.

“I realized my limitations were only what I decided they would be,” Roy said. “A positive attitude will take you further in life than anything else.”

He returned to college a year after his accident and earned a communications degree within four years. During that time, he also authored an autobiography and became a sought-after motivational speaker.

“The values that made me successful before my accident were the same values that were going to make me successful after my accident,” he said.

Today, Roy’s mobility is limited, but he says his life is the same as any other at its core.

“I can still laugh. I can still cry,” he said. “I can still enjoy the people around me.”

And he can still set goals, face challenges head-on and beat the odds.

“I like to live each day like a new faceoff,” Roy said.

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