One hour wasn't enough. After Travis Roy finished his speech to the Brooks School community in the Center for the Arts last night, students lined up to talk with him more, one-on-one, about how he transformed the tragedy of becoming paralyzed at age 20 into a thriving life as an author, motivational speaker and head of his eponymous foundation to benefit quadriplegics and paraplegics like himself.
"It's just genuinely inspiring," said Spencer Pierce '19 of Roy's talk following an all-school, seated dinner in Wilder Dining Hall, to which Roy himself was a guest. "He's awesome. I couldn't even imagine [enduring what he has] — and to climb back and make such a positive impact on so many communities? It's just fantastic. He's a spectacular human being."
Vicky Haghighi '19 lined up to talk with Roy after his remarks and a Q & A with the audience. "I enjoyed his speech a lot," she said. "I can be lazy and to hear him speak about his life and all the hardships he's gone through, it just made me want to do more. It was very motivational."
Roy's road to this role as inspiring speaker wasn't one he sought out, though. The former hockey player suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury at the age of 20 during the first 11 seconds of his first college game with the Boston University Terriers in 1995.
"As a result," Roy shared with the students and faculty that filled the mainstage audience, "I'm a quadriplegic. ...That's the challenge that chose me. You see, I believe in life there are times when we choose our challenges and we set our goals, and there are times when the challenges simply choose us. But it's what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who we are — and more importantly, who we can and will become."
Roy — who founded the Travis Roy Foundation with his family in 1997 to raise money for quadriplegics and paraplegics as well as to support research for a cure — offered students advice throughout the talk chronicling his life.
"I believe that there are two primary motivating factors that you have to have in order to do in order to attain your goals and more importantly, your dreams," said the guest speaker, who ultimately graduated from Boston University and authored a memoir, Eleven Seconds. "The first one is that you have to have the desire to see what you can do, whatever it is you choose. ...Find something that you're passionate about and then you want to ask yourself, 'How good can I be? How far can I take it?' What's your potential? And the second is so basic...but for me, it all comes back to having pride because pride is knowing that you tried your best; that you gave it your all. ...You have to have that belief in yourself to attain your goals."
He should know. As a teen, Roy recalled identifying his goals (initially to maintain a B average in school and play Division 1 hockey), then setting new ones after his accident.
"Now when I give talks I always like to ask the audience, 'What are your goals, short-term, long-term? Academic, professional?'" he said. "You see, I don't believe there's any other way to stay motivated, than having a plan over a period of time, other than by setting goals and writing them down."
Having goals helped him get through the "dark days" post-accident. Roy was on a ventilator for more than two months, communicating only by blinking. In subsequent months he lost about 50 pounds and said he felt his world collapsing around him as he lay, "for four months on a hospital bed staring up at white quartz ceiling tiles."
There were times back then, he admitted that he thought, "I just can't take it anymore. I don't have an ounce of energy left to face another challenge, let alone overcome another obstacle." But we can, he continued. "Each one of us, we have it in us to dig just a little bit deeper."
Roy encouraged students to talk to others when they are struggling. "Make sure that you have people in your lives that you can talk to, whether it's a friend, parent or teacher," he urged. "You've got to share the weight of this world. It's too much for all of us to carry around by ourselves."
Describing his transfer to a spinal rehabilitation hospital in Florida following his accident, Roy noted that, "sometimes a change in scenery is all it takes to turn things around. It's a matter of perspective; how you look at things; how you choose to look at things."
Twenty years ago, he admitted, "I didn't know what was possible for me. In fact, I couldn't imagine how full a life I could live. But I can tell you that I've come farther than I ever could have imagined because of my family, my friends, even too the kindness of complete strangers."
The speaker then asked students to show to others that compassion, which so helped him, and to acknowledge love they feel for people in their lives and to share it: "Don't be afraid of the word 'love.'"
"You have the power to inspire..." added Roy. "By sharing my story with you today, I hope I can make a difference in your motivation and maybe you can make a difference in someone else's. I'd even settle for just getting you to look at your life from a different perspective — because you might be surprised at what you find."
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