Will Reeve, a member of the board of directors for the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and the son of the late Christopher Reeve, eulogizes Travis Roy, who died Thursday. Roy was 45. Paralyzed in his first NCAA game as a freshman with Boston University in 1995, Roy became a titan in the field of spinal cord injury research and his Travis Roy Foundation raised millions of dollars, which were distributed in research grants and to quality-of-life organizations, including the Reeve Foundation.
Courage: often written about, not often understood. A few rare souls embody the word in ways that are so unmistakable that their lessons stay with you long after they are gone. Travis Roy is one such hero.
One of the honors of my life was to be present with Travis in 2014 when he received the Christopher Reeve Spirit of Courage Award. I spoke that evening about nuanced ideas of courage that appear in places like cold ice rinks in Maine in the early morning, a world away from hockey stardom but connected intimately to it by a dream. The special brand of courage to follow that dream — to fight the cynics and one’s own fears — and to keep going when the dream is shattered in the briefest of unluckiest seconds.
In the first 11 seconds of his first game as a Boston University hockey player, Travis sustained a spinal cord injury after crashing into the boards. It was in that moment, with his father kneeling beside him on the ice, that Travis’ courage would transcend his dream of hockey fame and become the hallmark of his well-lived life. He personified courage through gentle acceptance of the challenges that he would face as a result of his injury, and in the multitude of ways that he dedicated the rest of his life to making a difference in the lives of others.
His legacy, the Travis Roy Foundation, provided millions of dollars in grants to paralysis research and quality-of-life organizations, including the Reeve Foundation. It is not the dollars, however, that will be remembered. It is what he gave to the spinal cord injury community: hope for the future and help for the here and now. He understood the feeling of helplessness that can come with catastrophic injury and made it his life’s work to ensure that a father would be able to tuck in his children at night thanks to a stairlift to the second floor of his home, that caregivers have a proper lift to help their loved ones from their bed to their wheelchair, and so much more.
Travis, like my father, never gave up hope that cures were on the horizon. In 2014, the Travis Roy Foundation pledged $425,000 to help fund The Big Idea, saying “this trial can’t happen soon enough.” He had the courage to believe, and as a result, nearly 30 clinical trial participants have had stimulators implanted as part of The Big Idea.
Denna Laing, a former Princeton University, Boston Blades and Boston Pride hockey player, became the trial’s 27th participant this past June. Following her epidural stimulation journey fills my heart with optimism, and Travis’ courageous words of hope echo in my mind. He said that more than anything, his courage was fueled by the hope that someday he would regain significant pieces of his independence.
Travis’ hope lives on, and he leaves us all with more courage than we perhaps realize we have — the courage to live as he did, with honor, grace and unwavering purpose.
With my siblings, Matthew and Alexandra, along with everyone at the Reeve Foundation and the millions of people in the global spinal cord injury community, extend our deepest sympathies to Travis’ wonderful parents, Lee and Brenda, his sister, Tobi, and the entire Roy family.