“But Dad, I Made It.” Turning Turmoil into Triumph: The Remarkable Story of Travis Roy

Travis Roy on ice in hockey rink.
Photo c/o: Travis Roy Foundation

The other day I came across a profound story of courage, perseverance, and strength in the wake of immense adversity. We’ve seen this happen many times before – something dramatic happens in our lives and it changes us forever. But what really makes a difference is how you handle a situation when life deals you a bad hand.

Travis Roy was an aspiring hockey player and like many young hockey players, had the ultimate dream of playing in the NHL one day. His passion for the sport showed in the numerous accolades and scholarships he received. In October 1995, he inched one step closer to achieving his dream when, as a freshman at 20, he was recruited to play for the men’s hockey team for Boston University.

From the time the puck dropped, to when the whistle blew, it was 11 seconds.

Only 11 seconds.

Travis went in for a shoulder check and lost his balance, hitting his head on the side boards cracking two of his vertebra. He fell to the ice, completely immobile from the neck down, and at that moment, his life had dramatically changed forever.

Travis Roy, hockey player
Travis Roy – Photo c/o cnn.com

As emergency personnel feverishly tended to a severely injured Travis, his father came out of the stands and onto the ice to help Travis. In spite of the horror that Travis had just endured, he looked at his dad and acknowledged that something was very wrong and that he couldn’t feel anything, and then a moment later, he whispered, “but Dad, I made it.

His dream had materialized, and although he had hoped for much more than 11 seconds, he had realized his dream nonetheless, and that was something he would hold onto for the rest of his life as it suddenly took a very drastic and unexpected turn.

It was this part of Travis’ story that really touched me. That short phrase that he uttered in a moment of such incredible duress showed the depth of his character.

This young ambitious athlete had just had his childhood dream ripped away from him in a matter of seconds, and for him to be lying on the ice completely immobile from the neck down, to see the good in what had so quickly turned into such a horrific situation was just beyond humbling.

“That first game was the best day of my life, and by the time it was over, it would turn into the worst.”  – Travis Roy

The accident left Travis a quadriplegic and drove his life down an entirely different path than he had ever envisioned.

This particular story stood out for me because it came with a very deep underlying message: In Travis’ own words, “I spent the first 20 years of my life living with passion, and the last 20 years of my life living with purpose.”

Life began with passion, and ultimately continued with purpose. You started out doing what excited you, what got your adrenaline pumping and ultimately ended up doing what you were meant to.

No matter how you see it, stories like this always get me because it shows the true measure of a person in a time of adversity. You can either let a traumatic experience completely eat you alive, or you can accept it, internalize it and come out of the ashes making a real positive impact.

In the years following the accident, Travis put that purpose to work by starting the Travis Roy Foundation – a non-profit organization dedicated to helping other spinal cord injury survivors enhance their quality of life and to aid in further research towards a cure.

He is also a motivational speaker sharing his story and inspiration with individuals of all ages, including corporate audiences and students.

“There are times when we choose our challenges and then there are times where the challenges simply choose us. And it’s what we do in the face of those challenges that really defines who we are.” – Travis Roy

As the saying goes, everything in life happens for a reason. And while I am sure Travis and his family continue to reflect on what might have been, I hope he finds solace in knowing that he has made a tremendously positive impact to the lives of so many others in the last 20 years since that fateful day in 1995.

This video goes deeper into Travis’ story. It tugs at the heart string so be sure to keep a box of tissues nearby.

With Christmas just days away and holiday season in full swing, let us truly be so grateful and thankful for what we have: for our health, our well-being, for everything we take for granted every day: the ability to get out of bed, to get up and walk from point A to point B, to be able to feed ourselves and brush our own teeth – the list could go on and on. With the holidays also comes the gift of giving, so if you’re in a position to donate –  whatever you can – I urge you to do so by going to Travis Roy Foundation. I gave a contribution of my own after reading this and felt good about knowing that I helped such a worthy cause in some way. Always remember that a little goes a long way.

Travis, thank you for inspiring me beyond words. Keep spreading your light to those around you and beyond. People like you make the world a better place. God bless you.


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