Most the time, you get to choose your challenges. But, sometimes, your challenges choose you.
That is what Travis Roy, a former Boston University hockey player, told Culver Academies students during a special all-school speech Thursday. Roy’s appearance was made possible through the Class of ’62 Student Enrichment Fund.
In his first collegiate hockey game for the defending NCAA champion Terriers, freshman Roy hit the boards wrong while trying to check a player from North Dakota in 1995. He had fractured his fourth and fifth vertebrae when his head hit the boards. He was paralyzed from the neck down.
Everything he had been working toward since he was in junior high and made his list of goals culminated in Roy playing Division I hockey. And, suddenly, after just 11 seconds on the ice, it was gone.
While he didn’t know the extent of his injury, Roy knew it was bad. He couldn’t feel his arms or legs. Still, when his father Lee came on the ice to see how he was, Roy said he was able to tell him “I made it.”
But his challenge had suddenly chosen him. Now, it was his choice on how he faced that challenge.
Roy told the audience that he had two or three pages of notes and goals that ultimately led to playing DI hockey, playing for the USA hockey team, and the NHL. And he encouraged the students to make their own list of goals and how they would accomplish them.
For Roy, he was practical in writing up his goals. He knew he would have pull good grades in order to play college hockey. He wasn’t the best of students. But he worked hard to maintain a B average and score over 1,000 on his SAT test.
He could have taken some shortcuts, he said, but it was a matter of pride for him.
“Don’t let yourself down,” he said. “Only you can put in the time and effort. Believe in yourself.”
After the injury, Roy spent two months on a ventilator and four months “looking at ceiling tiles” while flat on his back because of a bedsore. He finally determined it was time to “just let me deal with it. Each one of us has the spirit to do more than we would have ever imagined. It’s the way you choose to look at things.”
Since he has been in a wheelchair, Roy said people treat him differently, although he still the same in most ways. Just because someone is different doesn’t mean they don’t deserve your respect. “Thank God we’re all different,” he added. “Be more patient, more tolerant. Don’t be so quick to judge. Hear people out.”
And, when people ask him what he would do first if he could get out of his wheelchair, Roy said it would be to hug his mother and father, and the rest of the family because they have sacrificed so much for him.
Likewise, he said, the students should give their parents and families a hug, too.
“Let them know you care about them.”