When you think about the most important day in your life, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s your high school graduation or your first day of college. Perhaps it’s your wedding day or the miraculous birth of your first born child. Or maybe it’s something as simple as spending a fulfilling day with a sick loved one or seeing the love of your life for the first time. Whatever the occasion may be we all have those days in our life that symbolize the achievement of our dreams or a momentous positive change in our life.
October 20, 1995 was the most pivotal day in Travis Roy’s young life. A day that would determine the outcome of his future, a day he had been dreaming about for most of his short 18 years of life. For Travis, this day started with overwhelming excitement and joy and culminated with indescribable tragedy and grief. It was a day that encompassed the full spectrum of human emotions, from great joy to unimaginable heartache. You see, October 20, 1995, was the last day Travis laced up his hockey skates and stepped foot on the ice he so loved. It was the last day he suited up in his beloved Boston University hockey uniform. It was the last day he gave his teammates a celebratory good luck high five. On this day, instead of fulfilling his long awaited dream, Travis came face to face with his worst nightmare. The blink of an eye was all it took to turn a vibrant and talented young athlete on the cusp of a legendary hockey career into a young man struggling to survive with a drastically changed life ahead of him.
Eleven seconds into his very first hockey game as a Boston University Freshmen all star, Travis slammed headfirst into the sideboard at top speed, smashing the vertebrae in his neck and instantly paralyzing him from the shoulders down. His very first game had sadly become his last. Unlike most people, Travis has had to share the most important day of his life with the day his life tragically changed forever. His memories of joy and anxious excitement for his first game are tainted with memories pain and heartbreak. But with the demise of one dream, came the creation of a new one. Almost sixteen years after that fateful day, Travis has become the true epitome of triumph over tragedy and has given new meaning to the motto; never let your obstacles ruin your chance for success. Travis has gone on to become an extremely prominent and inspiring author and motivational speaker. His autobiography, Eleven Seconds chronicles his life before and after his injury and showcases his intensely positive outlook on life. Shortly after his injury, Travis became an influential voice for the thousands of people with spinal cord injury and founded The Travis Roy Foundation to provide support, information and research for those suffering with this devastating injury.
I am so fortunate to know Travis personally and I sat down with him for a chat. Check it out below!
M: Tell me about that fateful October night in 1995? Summarize the moments before and after you suffered this devastating injury? Were you conscious in the moments after your injury and if so, what was going through your mind?
T: October 20, 1995 was the best day of my life. I worked my whole life to live the dream of playing Division I college hockey. My family, friends, and old coaches were all in the stands that night. When it was finally my turn to take the ice I couldn’t have been any more excited, but at the same time I knew I was ready to play at the Division I level. I never did lose consciousness. The thoughts going through my mind mainly revolved around the idea that I knew my life was over as I knew it. But I would never play hockey again. And that I was in big trouble. The main emotion I was experiencing was sadness, because I knew everything that I had worked for had come to an end.
M: What was your diagnosed level of injury and what amount of movement and sensation did you maintain?
T: My injury was at the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. I have no sensation below my shoulders and only slight movement in my right arm.
M: When you finally realized the severity of your injury, what went through your mind? How did you turn the initial shock into an overwhelming fighting spirit? Have you always maintained an optimistic attitude?
T: There wasn’t a whole lot going to my mind in the first couple months after my accident. I mainly just took it one day at a time and faced whatever challenges I had to face that day. I always had a fighting spirit due to my athletic background. I was never one to give up and always tried to make the best out of each and every situation. My positive attitude has always been ingrained in me thanks to my parents.
M: Loss can happen to us in many ways. The loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a home, etc. Those of us who have suffered a spinal cord injury experienced a vital loss we all take for granted; the movement of our bodies. How did you come to terms with this loss?
T: I don’t know that I ever thought about coming to terms with the loss of my physical abilities. When they rolled me off of the ice the night of my accident on the stretcher, I had an instinct that told me this life is over, don’t waste your time dwelling on the past, let’s just figure out how to move forward… one day at a time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sad for the losses, but it doesn’t do me much good to think about those things.
M: Like many of us with SCI, you underwent intense rehabilitation. How did you maintain a sense of optimism while undergoing rigorous physical therapy? How did you adapt emotionally to the limited movement of your body?
T: My physical rehabilitation was certainly intense, but I’m not so sure I ever looked at the big picture. I just took it one task or exercise at a time. Six months after my accident I found myself back at home where I had to face a new set of challenges. Emotionally, my thoughts were always on how I was going to make the best of this, not only for myself, but for my family and friends. I didn’t want to let them down, nor myself.
M: Have you gained any additional movement or feeling in the years following you injury?
T: No, I have not gained any additional moment or feeling in the years following my injury.
M: What would you say to those who have suffered a recent spinal cord injury? What advice and words of wisdom would you give them?
T: The biggest thing I learned after my accident was when I did have a bad experience, to not let that be the end of it. You always have to give things a second, a third, and sometimes a fourth chance before you give up on something. Usually you’ll eventually find ways to accomplish the task or feel more comfortable. For instance, the first time I went out to a restaurant after my accident it was an absolute nightmare. I couldn’t get close enough to the table to reach my plate. My mother had to stand up to feed me each bite of food. I felt like everyone was staring at me. I literally started to cry. However I found the second time I went out to a restaurant I was able to find simple solutions where things went more smoothly. I also had a better idea what to expect. Today, there is nothing I enjoy more than going out to eat with my friends and family.
My other advice to family members who have had a loved one sustain a spinal cord injury, is that fundraising is critical to alleviating many of the hardships the paralysis brings on. Living with paralysis is much more bearable when you have the proper equipment… the right bed, wheelchair, van, voice-activated computer, etc. The technology is absolutely amazing, but it is unfortunately very expensive. It can be very awkward to have friends and family raising money on your behalf, but in the long run there is nothing more important than having money available to purchase needed equipment, especially where there is no immediate cure in sight.
M: There are also many other disabilities and struggles that people face on a daily basis, what advice would you give to anyone facing a challenging situation?
T: My biggest advice to someone facing a challenging situation is to not waste your time looking back. If you’re not moving forward and trying to figure out how you’re going to overcome the challenge in front of you, you’re only regressing. I know there are times where it feels like there are no answers, but I truly believe that somehow, some way, there is always a solution (even if it’s not the one you were looking for).
M: As many of us know, life in a wheelchair can be extremely challenging, how do you cope with the day to day struggles of having a physical disability? How do you deal with the frustration of adapting to a world that is not always wheelchair friendly?
T: As far as coping with my disability, I’ve always had the thought process of recognizing that things could be worse. Thank goodness I still have my mind, that I’m not on a ventilator, that I have family around to support me. Sure I wish I could drive, that my level of injury was lower and that I had more physical movement, but I rarely ever think of those things. As the saying goes, my glass is always half-full… for that matter, I mostly try to think my glass is Full. I know this sounds easier said than done, but I truly can’t waste my time, energy, or emotion on the things that I can’t do or when things are not accessible. As soon as I acknowledge something is not possible, I try to figure out how to make it accessible, or I move on.
M: What do you do to keep yourself healthy? Do you exercise or take part in any adaptive activities? Do you use restorative therapies like FES(Functional Electrical Stimulation)?
T: I am embarrassed to say that I do not exercise at all and that I rarely ever do my range of motion. I am not proud of this, but it is the truth. I do spend time each morning making sure I’m properly sitting in my wheelchair, that my hips are centered and that I am completely in the back of my chair (that I’m not slouched). I also try to eat healthy, and am very aware of my portion control.
M: Your autobiography Eleven Seconds is an inspirational and informative story that provides insight and hope in overcoming a life-changing situation. Writing a book is such a tedious task, what was that process like and what was your ultimate goal in sharing your story?
T: To be honest, I didn’t have a whole lot of preconceived notions when I wrote my book. My goal was to tell my story and be as open and honest as possible. I felt like for the most part, I made good decisions as a child, and worked hard to achieve my goals. I was proud to make it to Boston University and receive an athletic scholarship. I guess I wanted people to know a little bit how I got to that point, and for people to know a little bit about me and who I was before my accident. The physical process of writing the book was relatively easy, as my publisher provided me with a ghostwriter that helped me through the process. I generally spent a couple hours a week talking with my ghostwriter and he would help record my thoughts. Most of it was done during my first semester after I returned to Boston University. The whole process took about a year. Overall it was an enjoyable experience and I’m happy to say that I’m proud of how the book came out.
M: Your foundation has done so much for the millions of people who have suffered a devastating Spinal Cord Injury. What was your initial goal in starting the Travis Roy Foundation and how do you feel about the amazing success it has today? What are your hopes for the future?
T: I’m extremely proud of how the Travis Roy Foundation has turned out. I quickly realized after my accident that I was fortunate to have good insurance, a significant amount of fundraising done on my behalf, and great family and friends. I also realized that there were many people in my condition that did not have the support, and I wanted to help them out. The TRF has since helped out hundreds of other spinal cord injured survivors through the purchase of adaptive equipment grants. These grants range from the purchase of wheelchairs, voice-activated computers, simple home modifications. My other goal for the Foundation was to raise money for research. It would be a dream come true to end paralysis. My hope for the future is that we’ll continue to be able to help more spinal cord injured survivors and fund research. Ideally, I would love for a cure to come so that the Travis Roy Foundation would no longer be needed.
M: You have also become a very successful motivational speaker. How often do you give speeches and to what types of crowds? What is the overall theme of each speech?
T: I give anywhere from 30-50 speeches a year. I speak to all different types of crowds, from elementary schools to Fortune 500 companies. Depending on the audience, the theme of my speech changes. For younger audiences my speech may include topics such as disability awareness, goal setting, and establishing individual core values. For the corporate setting, my speech revolves around the idea of facing life’s challenges, whether you choose those challenges, or the challenges choose you. That you always have choices in how you deal with life’s challenges.
M: What are your overall goals for the future?
T: My goals for the future include remaining a productive part of society. I have a 10 year business plan with annual financial goals. I have goals to increase the fundraising efforts of the Travis Roy Foundation so that we can help out more individuals and fund more research.
M: What are your thoughts on Stem Cell research?
T: My thoughts on stem cell research is that it will help lead to an eventual cure for paralysis. It will not be a perfect cure, but I do believe (hope), that it will allow those that suffered a spinal cord injury to be independent.
M: Most of us with SCI dream about the day we will regain the full use of our bodies. If you were to wake up tomorrow with the full use of your body given back to you, what is the first thing you would do?
T: The first thing I would do if I was able bodied again, would be to hug my mother, my father, my sister, and all of the other people that have helped me through the years.
M: Do you think a cure for SCI will be found? Do you believe you will walk again?
T: I believe those with spinal cord injuries will walk again, however for those that have been paralyzed for say 20 years or more, I am concerned they may not “walk again”. However I do hope that those people will gain enough mobility so that they can be independent. More specifically, that they have enough movement to get in and out of bed, control of their bowel and bladder, and enough dexterity to take care of their daily physical needs.
I truly don’t know if I will walk again, but I do hope to be independent again, which would be enough of a “cure” for me. When I say independent, I mean that I would no longer need care attendants or loved ones to help me with my physical needs and that I would be able to live by myself.
Check out Travis Roy’s autobiography Eleven Seconds available at most book stores