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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