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Travis Roy’s name and legacy to live on with a $4 million gift to help those with spinal cord injuries

‘Part of the Travis magic. So many people felt connected to him.’

"People have lifted us up," says Brenda Roy, pictured with her husband, Lee, in a Concord, N.H., restaurant.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

CONCORD, N.H. — It’s a moment frozen forever in time. A fleeting snapshot. A painful — almost unbearable — punctuation point inside a cold arena on a smooth sheet of ice.

It happened just 11 seconds into the first shift of Travis Roy’s collegiate hockey career at Boston University in 1995. Now, preserved forever, it’s the story of an unfair, paralyzing injury and a legacy for the ages.

Of friendship, and family. And of soaring faith. And, now, of an extraordinarily generous gift to help other spinal cord injury survivors.

“It’s with a smile on my face and a great deal of pride to talk about our son,’’ Lee Roy, Travis’s father, told me the other day at a restaurant here.

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“Someone gave us a prayer card called ‘Footprints,’ ‘’ said Brenda Roy, Lee’s wife and Travis’s mom. “And I remember reading that and thinking, ‘That’s exactly what’s happening to us.’ People have lifted us up.

“And that’s helped us not to be angry. Not to be wallowing in self-pity. We were filled with gratitude almost from day two. People embraced us. They carried us. It was unbelievable.’’

There is a certain amount of unbelievability in the Travis Roy story.

It’s the story of young promise, youthful athleticism. A story of strength and grace. And a painful tale of an especially skilled collegiate athlete and how life can change, quite literally, in an unfair blink of an eye.

Here’s how it happened for Travis Roy:

On the night of Oct. 20, 1995, when Roy was just 20, his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae were crushed as he tumbled awkwardly into the rear boards at Walter Brown Arena.

Brenda and Lee Roy were in the stands that night.

“I’m an ice arena manager,’’ Lee Roy said. “I’ve been around hockey my entire life. And Travis knows the rules to get up. And when he didn’t, Brenda said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘He dislocated his shoulder. Broken arm.’ I said, ‘It’s serious.’ Because he stayed down.

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Yes, it was serious. In fact, it was life-changing. He was now a quadriplegic.

A moment that changed the trajectory of his life and the lives of those who loved him.

“If you look at Trav pre-accident, he’s like the all-American kid with the smile, the blond hair, the athletic young male,’’ said Dan Ronan, Travis’s roommate and BU teammate who is now a trustee with the Travis Roy Foundation.

“He was the guy who plenty of females wanted to meet. That was the type of guy he was. He was very friendly. When I say we were all cocky hockey players, I think that was more on the ice and in our hockey circle.

“But off the ice, Travis wasn’t that guy. He was nice and kind. And he didn’t act like a guy who was playing hockey at Boston University.’’

It’s that kind of legacy, Ronan said, that has made the Travis Roy Foundation an almost-instant success. A popular young man. A gifted athlete. An almost unimaginably unfair twist of fate.

And now this: The Travis Roy Foundation is preparing to close its door after 26 years of funding support for spinal cord injury victims and spinal cord research.

As a punctuation point to its extraordinary efforts, the foundation is now announcing more than $4 million in combined gifts to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Boston and the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The money will help pay for assistive technology to help those with spinal cord injuries regain their independence.

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“It all speaks to Travis,’’ said Ronan. “He just got people together who wanted to do things for him. To do that for a guy whose last name wasn’t Russell or Williams or Orr is pretty amazing.

“That was part of the Travis magic. So many people felt connected to him and wanted to do things for him. And they were devastated when he passed. When that news broke, it rippled through New England and through Boston so quickly. It was the lead story in the news.’’

And, now, Travis Roy is making news again.

This time with an extraordinary gift that will carry the name of an extraordinary son, and friend, and teammate, and a spinal cord injury survivor who never wanted to let his injury define him.

Instead, define him this way: a beloved son, a trusted teammate, a man who wanted to do thing for others. And is now doing precisely that.

“Travis had a vision for his foundation,’’ Lee Roy told me. “Whatever we raised, he said, ‘I want half of it going there and the other half going to research, which is my only hope of ever getting out of this chair.’

“And that’s the same viewpoint that anybody who’s a spinal cord survivor hopefully has. They’re going to find a cure. And that word is very important. Every spinal cord survivor knows that as long as you have hope, there’s a chance that there’s going to be a cure.’’

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Travis Roy died in 2020 at the age of 45 after complications from surgeries intended to improve his quality of life related to his quadriplegia.

“His legacy will last forever, not just within the Boston University community, but with the countless lives he has impacted across the country,’’ BU said at the time of his death.

And, now, that’s exactly what is happening with this extraordinary gift.

On Friday, the day before the second anniversary of his death, there will be an event at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital to unveil the Travis Roy Center for Enhanced Independence, a place where patients can chart their most important course.

A course that will take them home.


Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.