Eric Conrad

Counting His Blessings

(from Maine Townsman, August/September 2010)
A Message From MMA
By Eric Conrad, Director of Communication & Educational Services, MMA

“I was so blessed.”

Those aren’t words you expect from someone who, during a freak sports accident, was paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 20.

Then again, Travis Roy isn’t typical.

Many Mainers already know his story. A star hockey player at North Yarmouth Academy, he achieved his dream of playing Division I college hockey at Boston University. During his first game as a Terrier – his 11th second on the ice, to be exact – Roy crashed into the boards. His injuries left him paralyzed from the neck down.

That was 15 years ago, in 1995. Since then, Roy’s accomplishments have only grown. He wrote a best-selling book. He has done commentary for ESPN. He basically holds two full-time jobs: Making 30 or so appearances a year as an inspirational speaker; and, running a non-profit foundation that raises $500,000 annually to fund research into spinal cord injuries, and to help eligible families buy wheelchairs, lifts, special mattresses and other medical equipment.

His desire to overcome adversity, to be the best that he can be, remains as strong as ever. That is why – during challenging times for municipal leaders all across Maine – Roy was chosen as the keynote speaker at the Maine Municipal Association Convention, Oct. 12-13 in the Augusta Civic Center.

On the topic of medical research, Roy sounds both dispirited and hopeful.

“When we started,” he said, during a recent interview, “I thought the foundation would be out of business in 10 years. I thought we’d have found the answers. It’s disappointing that we haven’t but, at the same time, it’s still the same battle that we wage, and research has come a long way.”

The research arm of Roy’s foundation works with the Christopher Reeve Foundation in deciding which medical projects to support. The late actor’s Foundation has a peer-review process that is top-notch, Roy explained, so why not pair up? That alliance allowed Roy to meet the actor, most famous for his role in the Superman movies of the late 1970s and ‘80s, on several occasions.

“I’m not sure he was ever in good health after his accident,” Roy said. “It was amazing what he was able to accomplish.”

On the topic of helping families deal with injuries such as his, Roy is simply buoyed.

Each quarter, his foundation receives 50 to 70 applications for assistance. Roy reviews each one himself and finds them very moving.

“There are so many stories,” Roy said. “So many families struggle after an accident like mine. I was so blessed with the personal support and certainly the financial support I received. You read through these stories and it doesn’t take you long to realize how blessed I am and my family is.”

One of the biggest pieces to the puzzle is having quality health-insurance coverage, which his father, Lee, fortunately had provided. To this day, Travis’ medical requirements include round-the-clock attendant care, which is very costly.

The key for people who suffer spinal cord injuries is maintaining their independence, Roy said. That’s why financial support from his foundation can make such a difference.

Roy is frequently on the speaking circuit, “mostly in the Northeast,” he said, but also in North Dakota, Mississippi and other locales.

He often speaks to large audiences, such as the MMA convention crowd, but sometimes finds himself in front of smaller and even unusual groups. Last year, for example, he spoke at a female pre-release detention facility and to a group of married and widowed women who were part of the Catholic Church.

“We receive a lot of feedback about how my message affects people,” Roy said.

He works at his craft and views the speaking part of his career as a professional challenge.

“It’s like the athletic world. The better you get at it, the higher you can climb the ladder,” Roy said.

In his personal life, Roy splits time between Boston and Vermont, spending nine months a year in Boston and summers in Vermont. During the Townsman interview, Roy was on the deck at his family’s Vermont home, watching his father do landscaping work.

“It’s beautiful here,” he said.

Maine also is special to Roy, and that’s one reason why he looks forward to the MMA Convention.

“I really enjoy coming back to Maine,” he said. “I’ll always be a Mainer.”

SUPPORTING THE FOUNDATION

Donations to the Travis Roy Foundation can be made through its website: http://www.travisroy.com/foundation.php