Travis Roy, a hockey player, son, and friend, has died

But last month, shortly before the surgery, when we met for what would be the last time, at his Vermont home overlooking Lake Champlain, he didn’t want to talk about that.

He didn’t want people to worry about him. Not the paralyzed people and their families whom he had counseled and helped. Not the young hockey players, boys and girls, who had met and been inspired by him.

After so many years in a wheelchair, getting through and healing from such surgery posed many serious risks to his health. He wanted to engage in this fight with only his family and closest friends knowing of the threat it posed to his life.

He never had the luxury of dealing with his hockey injury privately. His was the most public of catastrophes, witnessed by thousands of fans at the Walter Brown Arena at Boston University. His was a story that would eventually be known by millions.

Travis Roy watched a BU hockey game in 2005.
Travis Roy watched a BU hockey game in 2005.Hunt, Justine Globe Staff

What happened when he was just 20 years old, only 11 seconds into his first shift as a Boston University Terrier, fulfilling a dream that he pursued with singular determination since he first laced up skates as a boy in North Yarmouth, Maine, was a sobering reminder of how fragile life is, of how vulnerable even elite athletes are.

The random cruelty that befell him touched so many. So many people, especially in New England, felt it vicariously.

What was truly extraordinary and inspirational was how Travis responded to his catastrophic injury. Within a year, he returned to BU.

Rather than concentrate fully on his own rehabilitation, which on its own was overwhelming, he began thinking of ways to help others in similar circumstances. In a culture that is notably self-absorbed, his reaction was to use his own tragic situation to create opportunities for those in similar circumstances with less support and resources.

Boston University players celebrate around former player Travis Roy, center top, and the Hockey East Trophy after defeating New Hampshire 4-2 in the 1997 Hockey East Finals.
Boston University players celebrate around former player Travis Roy, center top, and the Hockey East Trophy after defeating New Hampshire 4-2 in the 1997 Hockey East Finals.WINSLOW TOWNSON

He was just 21 years old, still trying to figure out how to negotiate a wheelchair around the BU campus, when he started a foundation to help fund research and buy adaptive equipment for others who are paralyzed.

Travis raised millions for the foundation, but just as important he raised spirits, of people living with paralysis and their families, and awareness, so that others who knew nothing about paralysis might be moved to act.

Anyone who heard him speak will know what I mean when I say he was awe-inspiring in the most understated way. Just by telling his story, Travis provided one of life’s greatest gifts: perspective.

In his moments of despair, and given the hand that life dealt him they were remarkably rare, Travis worried about being a burden.

During our last conversation, he talked of especially not wanting to be a burden to his parents, Lee and

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High school lacrosse player Gavin Schaffer battling cancer

Gavin Schaffer is a junior at Denver South High School fighting Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while using lacrosse as an outlet to heal.

DENVER — With high school lacrosse on hold, club teams have filled the void.   

For one player from Denver South, it’s been a life changing experience.   

“Its kind of just getting away from everything and not really focusing on anything in particular,” says Gavin Schaffer, a junior at South. 

Lacrosse is called the medicine game. Native Americans believe it can lift spirits and heal members of the community. There’s no question the sport helped Schaffer.

“Everyone always has this stereotype that cancer patients can’t really do anything. Like they just sit at home and do nothing,” said Schaffer, days away from starting his sixth chemotherapy treatment. “I just really feel (playing lacrosse is) a way to get out of that and be normal. With all your friends and stuff and not have to worry about what you’re going to have to go through in the next week or two.”

Six months ago, Schaffer was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The same disease his sister Lilian battled and beat earlier this year.   

Chemotherapy didn’t keep the 16-year-old from playing lacrosse. After five treatments, he hasn’t missed a single practice or game for his club team, South Elite Amateur Lacrosse.

“I remember at the beginning he didn’t look as well as he does now, but he was still out there fighting and putting in the work just like everybody else”, said Thomas Culhanne, a senior defenseman. 

“There’s no way I could stay at home and do nothing,” said an emotional Schaffer fighting back tears. “Because I just, I just…you know.”

“Chemotherapy takes everything out of you.  And I have absolutely no idea how he does it,” said Evan Westervelt, a junior defenseman. “It’s incredible. Especially the way he performs at such a high level.” 

Schaffer is on track to be in remission by the end of the year. And that’s a good thing, because he has big plans for 2021 as spokesman for the Headstrong Foundation. It’s a non-profit which raises money to improve the lives of those affected by cancer.

“I just feel that if sharing my story will help people donate and help that Headstrong Foundation to help kids who are going through a lot worse than me. Then I feel like it can also cure cancer and give money to research and give these kids homes to help the get treatment to make them get better,” said Schaffer.

Hope is the medicine that lacrosse gave Gavin Schaefer on his journey to good health. He began his final Chemotherapy treatment on Wednesday and was on the field that night helping South beat Kent Denver 11-6.   

They’re now two wins away from a championship.  

For more information on the Headstrong Foundation, including how to donate, click here. 

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