Travis Roy, the Maine native who went on to inspire millions after being paralyzed in his first college hockey game, died Thursday. He was 45.

His death was confirmed by his brother-in-law, Keith VanOrden, who is acting as the family spokesman. Roy died at the University of Vermont Medical Center, where he was rushed to have surgery on Tuesday after suffering complications from a previous surgery.

Roy, who was born in Augusta, grew up in Yarmouth and attended North Yarmouth Academy, was a freshman at Boston University when he jumped onto the ice for his first shift as a collegian on Oct. 20, 1995. Eleven seconds later, he was down on the ice, paralyzed after sliding head-first into the boards and severely damaging his spinal cord.

The injury left him a quadriplegic, but he never let it confine his spirit.

In 1997, Roy established the Travis Roy Foundation to help spinal cord injury survivors and to fund research for a cure. And while he used a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he traveled across the country, speaking about his accident and his life and raising millions of dollars for spinal cord injury research. The foundation has helped more than 2,100 quadriplegics and paraplegics, and awarded nearly $5 million in grants toward spinal cord research, according to its website.

“He provided hope for people,” VanOrden said. “Anybody who ever spent an hour, or even 10 minutes, with Trav left feeling better. He was an inspiration, he put life in perspective. To him it was all about family and friends.


“It was a 25-year hardship on him, but it was a 25-year gift for all of us who got to spend time with him.”

“Really his legacy was created after his playing career, what he’s been able to do and inspire,” said Scott Rousseau, the girls’ hockey coach at Cheverus High School. “His legacy is one of inspiration. Life isn’t always fair. In fact, it’s more often not fair.

“If anyone needs a better example of someone who was dealt an awful hand and persevered and maintained a positive attitude his entire life, it’s Travis Roy. You only have to look at what he’d gone through and he still kept such an amazing love of life. This is a sad day, indeed.”

Travis Roy with his mother and father in 1995. File photo

Rousseau was part of the committee that established the Travis Roy Award, given annually to Maine’s top high school senior in Class A boys’ hockey.

“There are people that transcend sports,” Rousseau said. “In Maine, Travis Roy is someone who transcended hockey.”

Tom Caron, the Lewiston native who is the studio host for the Boston Red Sox broadcasts on NESN, first got to know Roy while he was in high school and Caron was calling a state championship game for WGME-TV. Later, after Roy’s injury, Caron got to know his family, especially parents Lee and Brenda Roy.


“I am crushed, absolutely crushed, as are many people,” said Caron, who texted with Roy last week on the 25th anniversary of his injury. “He might be the most inspirational person I’ve ever met in my life. Here was a guy who, who in his darkest hour, found a life that impacted countless families, countless people, who went through what he went through. And he was reaching out to them in their darkest hour and lifting them up.”

In 2014, Roy was presented with the Christopher Reeve Foundation’s prestigious Spirit of Courage Award for his efforts to help those with spinal cord injuries. In recent years, he split time between an apartment in Boston and a home in Vermont.

Starting in 2001, Roy held an annual whiffle ball tournament in Essex, Vermont, raising over $6.4 million for the Travis Roy Foundation. That foundation is one reason his legacy will live forever, Caron said.

Travis Roy throws out the first pitch to Red Sox catcher Bill Haselman on April 13, 1996, at Fenway Park. Barry Chin/Boston Globe

“I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from people who know someone who was in a car accident or a hockey accident and in a hospital dealing with paralysis,” Caron said. “They’d ask the foundation if they could get hold of Travis. And then you’d find out that Travis had already been over at the hospital and talked to them.”

The ice rink at North Yarmouth Academy was renamed in Roy’s honor in 1998. His father, Lee, was the rink manager at NYA for many years.

Ben Jackson, NYA’s Head of School, first met Travis Roy in the fall of 2015 when the private school held a ceremony to retire Roy’s 00 jersey and host a fundraiser for the Travis Roy Foundation.


“He’s been back since then to speak to our students and just two years ago we inducted him as an honorary member into our athletic hall of fame,” Jackson said. “He’s just been a great friend to our school and as you can imagine an inspiration to our students. He was a tremendous speaker. He could hold an audience. You could hear a pin drop in a room of a 100, 200 students.”

Colby College men’s hockey coach Blaise MacDonald recruited Roy to Boston University while serving as an assistant coach.

“There’s a lot of emotion,” a shaken-up MacDonald said Thursday night. “He’s been an angel to so many people. His life was very challenging, every day, but you would never know it when you talked to him. It’s just very tough.”

Travis Roy receives his honorary degree from BU, Doctor of Humane Letters, from President Robert A. Brown, right, on May 15, 2016. Pat Greenhouse/Boston Globe

MacDonald recalled a rigorous recruiting process that pitted BU against the University of Maine.

“I got to know his family really well. He chose BU over Maine. We developed this relationship. It was exciting to think about his future at BU. … It was a tough battle recruiting him. He was a very kind, considerate young man.”

For everything Roy endured, VanOrden said he never forgot where he came from.


“In talking to him, one of the messages that came through loud and clear was this overwhelming sense of gratitude he had for the entire New England community, but more importantly the places he was from,” VanOrden said. “And he still wanted to see how good he could be and how much of an impact he could have, whether it was as a hockey player or, now, the person running a foundation to help people less fortunate than him.”

And, VanOrden said, Roy’s parents are grateful for all the support they’ve received. “The outpouring of love and support is overwhelming,” he said.

Tributes to Roy’s philanthropy and impact on others spread across social media Thursday.

Travis Roy arrives at the first awards celebration known as “The Globies,” held at the House of Blues on Landsdowne Street on Oct. 6, 2015. Jim David/Boston Globe

“It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the passing of Travis Roy,” Boston University Athletics said in a statement. “His story is the epitome of inspiration and courage, and he was a role model and a hero to so many people.”

Mike Eruzione, a former BU player and captain of the 1980 U.S. “Miracle on Ice” Olympic team wrote on Twitter: “sad day after hearing of the passing of Travis Roy he was a very special person. He dedicated his life to helping so many. Raised so much money for spinal cord injuries and those who suffered. He will be missed but his spirit and smile will be remembered forever RIP my friend.”

“Travis Roy was the ultimate symbol of determination and courage,” Boston Bruins President Cam Neely said.

Hockey East issued a similar sentiment, “the entire conference family mourns Travis’ passing. Travis Roy was one of the most cherished members of our family and his legacy will live on for generations to come.”

Staff Writer Steve Craig, and Bill Stewart of Central Maine Newspapers, contributed to this report.

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