Travis Roy recently returned to deliver the senior lecture at St. Mary's High School in Lynn for the eighth time in nine years.
A native of Yarmouth, Maine he had dreams of playing college hockey and eventually moving to the Olympics and the NHL. Eleven seconds into his first hockey game for Boston University in 1995, he checked an opposing player into the boards. At age 20, Roy was a quadriplegic.
Now 41, he speaks to businesses, high schoolers, and college students about his experiences, and has coauthored an autobiography, "Eleven Seconds: A Story of Tragedy, Courage, & Triumph."
He hopes the St. Mary's students get a lot out of his presentation, which focuses on values like "respect, making goals, love, and accomplishment."
"Basically, we have to try to understand different points of view," said Roy. "If we do that, we can become a more loving person. Respect is a big one. People say you have to earn respect . . . yes, but for the most part I disagree with that. When you meet somebody — no matter if they're white, black, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, gay, straight — they deserve the utmost respect.
"There's a lot of problems in the world, and the country," he added. "With more respect, right from the start, maybe we can be a better person."
Joe Fama, a senior from Lynnfield who helped St. Mary's win the Division 4 state basketball title in March, knew the basics of Roy's story, but said hearing him tell it in person was "moving."
"It's inspiring, how he made the best of his situation," said Fama. "It's a great thing for seniors to get to see.
"Last year, the day after Christmas, I broke my leg," said Fama. "I was in the hospital for six days, I missed school for two months. I fell behind in school. It was the hardest thing I ever went through. Listening to Travis, I was relating it to myself. I want to do what he does and stay positive."
Roy also runs the Travis Roy Foundation , which helps those with spinal chord injuries by providing adaptive equipment, as well as giving research grants in hopes of finding a cure. On Sunday, May 15, he will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the BU commencement. His number 24 hangs from the rafters at Agganis Arena.
"I had dreams of becoming a Division 1 athlete, and when I had that dream taken away, I had to start all over," said Roy. "What I've done over the last 20 years, with $9 million for the Travis foundation raised; I live independently, I make a good living for myself, I have really good people in my life.
"I live a life full of purpose, it's fulfilling. It can be done, regardless of how great the challenge may be."
Christina Bagni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.