In this photo taken Thursday, April 15, 2015, Travis Roy poses in his apartment in downtown Boston. Roy spent more than half his life in a wheelchair as a paraplegic after slamming into the boards 11 seconds into his first shift for national champion Boston University. Roy died Thursday at age 45. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Travis Roy didn’t completely look the part of a hockey star. Just ask one of the people who got to see him up close.

“You see Travis with the blond hair and the big smile and stuff,” said Colby College men’s hockey coach Blaise MacDonald, who in the mid-1990s was an assistant coach recruiting Roy to Boston University. “He looks like he could be down at Scarborough beach, surfing.”

Then MacDonald would see him play.

“He was a fierce competitor,” MacDonald said. “You could be thrown off. You’d go watch him at Tabor (Academy, in Marion, Massachusetts) and he’d just dominate the game and hit somebody. That competitiveness, you could feel it and see it.”

Roy spent 11 seconds showing those traits on the ice for BU, and the rest of his life proving they applied everywhere else. After suffering a paralyzing spinal cord injury on his first shift with the Terriers in 1995, Roy spent the next 25 years fighting and overcoming his adversity, and turning a tale of tragedy into one of inspiration as a fundraiser for spinal cord research with the Travis Roy Foundation and motivational speaker for generation after generation of athletes.

Roy, who was born in Augusta and grew up in Yarmouth, died Thursday at the age of 45.


“What a gigantic loss for everybody,” MacDonald said. “This was a person who was not a victim, although he could have been. Countless people’s lives benefitted from his compassion, his service, his mindset.”

Few people knew him, or his effect on people, better than his coach with the Terriers, Jack Parker.

“The impact he’s had on so many people is amazing,” Parker said. “I said to him two weeks ago, ‘Trav, you always talked about how much you missed hockey, but you did more in the chair than you could have ever done as a 20-year NHLer.’ It was quite a life, no question about it.”

The impact of Thursday’s news extended to all corners of sports, and beyond. Patriots coach Bill Belichick had a statement. So did the Red Sox. And Boston mayor Marty Walsh.

Parker got the news from Travis’s father, Lee, just before 2 p.m. He found out he didn’t have to let many people know.

In this photo taken Thursday, April 15, 2015, Travis Roy poses in his apartment in downtown Boston. Since being injured, Roy had helped and inspired others with his motivational speaking and foundation that provides equipment for victims of paralysis. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

“It got out and flashed across the nation,” he said. “I had people calling me and texting me from all over Canada and the United States an hour after Lee told me. It’s just amazing how many people were involved in Travis’ story.”


That includes the Maine hockey community, where wave after wave of coaches and players have come up knowing Roy’s story. The award given to the top senior hockey player in the state bears his name.

“It’s a huge loss for the entire hockey community, especially in New England,” said Ted Fabian, who won the award in 2006 while playing for Messalonskee. “He touched so many young players, all the way from youth hockey all the way through the professional ranks. (We knew) how inspirational he was, how he battled after the injury and how he got out there every day and made the world a better place.”

“I don’t know anybody involved in hockey, ever, that isn’t somehow touched or knows Travis or knows his story,” added Kennebec RiverHawks coach Jon Hart. “He’s not famous because he was an unbelievable hockey player. He’s famous because he was an unbelievable person.”

At his peak, Roy could play. At North Yarmouth Academy and then Tabor, Roy’s ability dazzled, as did his intensity and physicality despite not being a big player.

“He was tenacious as heck,” said Edward Little hockey coach Norm Gagne, who coached against Roy while at Waterville. “He was fast, he wasn’t very big, but he was talented. … He had the tenacity to be a winner, and he played hard. For a guy that wasn’t that big, he was not afraid to get in the corners and do the little things that you need to do.”

That package drew Division I attention, and soon the race for Roy boiled down to two national champions: the hometown University of Maine, which won it all in 1993, and BU, which won the championship in ’95.


“Two of the best teams in the country are recruiting you. It was a very, very competitive process to try to get Travis Roy,” MacDonald said. “He didn’t turn the puck over a lot. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes. … His hockey I.Q. and functional intelligence were very, very high.”

BU won the battle. The Terriers were ecstatic.

“I don’t think there’s any question, he had a shot to be an NHLer,” said Parker, who compared Roy as a recruit to future NHL forward Mike Grier. “I remember thinking not only is he going to be a good player for us, but he’s going to be captain of the team when he’s a senior.”

The injury happened on Roy’s first shift. Parker was in the runway reprimanding Chris O’Sullivan for a showy celebration on an early goal when he heard the arena’s reaction.

“They took him off the ice on a stretcher,” he said. “And I thought ‘You know, that’s too bad. He’ll miss a month or so.’ ”

Travis Roy speaks to Anita Clark before he addressed the annual convention of the Maine Municipal Association in Augusta in 2015. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Later in the game, the team doctor told him what actually happened.


“I don’t remember anything from the rest of that game,” Parker said.

He remembers telling his players, referencing the opening line from the book “The Road Less Traveled.”

” ‘Life is difficult,’ ” Parker recalled saying. ” ‘And I’m going to tell you something … this is going to be much more difficult than ever before for Travis Roy and his life.’ ”

It was difficult — “It took him two and a half hours just to get out of the house,” Parker said — but Roy found a way to use his situation and his experience for the better. At 20, he was paralyzed. By 21, he had started his foundation, and he was constantly at the side of people who had suffered similar fates as himself.

“What happened to him was a tragedy. The way he handled it was inspirational,” Parker said. “He never thought about ‘Poor me.’ He thought about ‘What about the guy that doesn’t have the support like I got? I’ve got to help that guy.’ ”

That’s the image that, for those who knew him and didn’t, will live on.

“We’ve lost a real icon with what he’s done. But I don’t think he’ll ever be forgotten,” Gagne said. “He was a winner. And he proved that after the accident.”

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