Friday, August 5, 2011

My Interview with Travis Roy

When I started this blog I had a simple concept. I wanted to interview everyday people to hear their story about how their lives are connected to hockey. I had no training on how the process works or the best way to write about an interview, but I loved doing it.
If there was ever an ultimate story to demonstrate how wonderful the hockey connection is it is the story of Travis Roy. (You can read about his story in a previous post I did on my blog here The Shortest Shift.) Travis is hockey. He may no longer be physically able to play the game but he will always be a part of the sport he grew up in. It is simply awe inspiring how his foundation has thrived through the hockey connection and I hope that after reading this article you will become part of that connection too. Whether it is by making a small donation (or a large one) or just sharing the article with others who would enjoy it or may be able to donate, you will become part of Travis Roy's hockey connection. I couldn't ask for anything more....

Have you ever sat and thought about how long 11 seconds is? Maybe it's the time it takes you to walk to your mailbox or from your front door to your car. But for Travis Roy 11 seconds was all it took to send his life down a much harder road than he could ever imagine. He's been on that road for nearly 16 years now. In that time he has not only become an amazing inspiration but, with his Travis Roy Foundation, has helped improve the lives of spinal cord injury survivors by providing assistance, information, and support.

I had the honor of getting the chance to interview Travis and knew his story well. In October of 1995 Travis took the ice to start his first shift, in his first game, as a Boston University hockey player.While heading into the corner, his accident has been put many ways: he stumbled, fell awkwardly, bounced. Whatever term you use it ultimately caused him to go head first into the boards, cracking his fourth vertebra, and leaving him paralyzed from the neck down- He would later regain some use of his right arm. How long did all of this take? 11 seconds.

When I sat down on a Friday afternoon to interview Travis Roy he was away from his home in Boston and was spending time at his family's home in Vermont. “It's fantastic weather, couldn't be any better.” Travis said. “I'm just looking at the lake, watching a few boaters. I can hear my cousin swimming at another part of the lake. All things considered, this is a good day.”

I glanced out my own window and saw my crazy yellow lab, Maggie, running in circles out in the beautiful weather in my own backyard. Travis was right. It was a good day.

One of the first things I wanted to know was what Travis enjoys doing now. Being an art person myself, I asked if he was still painting. “I took a bit of a hiatus,” he explained, having only recently started to paint again in the last two years. “It has become a great tool for the foundation to use as a fundraiser on the website.”

Probably my real passions now are good food and going out to good restaurants,” he said. “Maybe pulling some fun recipes off the internet… especially in the summer when I'm with my parents and they are up to cooking it for me.” Aside from being a food connoisseur Travis also likes to travel. Whether it's visiting his parents down in Florida, spending time at their vacation home in Vermont, or traveling to do one of his motivational speaking engagements, Travis gets around.

Travis makes his living on his motivational speaking, doing between 30-40 a year. His audiences range from large corporate 500 companies and local businesses to high schools and colleges. He doesn't make a penny from the Travis Roy Foundation but admits he spends 4-5 times more time working on the foundation than he does on his motivational speaking

The Travis Roy Foundation was created in 1997 and over the years there have been fundraisers and generous donations from individuals and companies. I asked Travis how the foundation is run and how he keeps in touch with those who help run it. “The foundation, as a whole, is all volunteer and pro bono,” he said, explaining that the main administration goes on in Boston at a law firm. “We've been very fortunate to have a gentleman there that has been there since day one after my accident.”

It was another hockey connection that led to that gentleman getting in contact with Travis so soon after his accident. When Travis was a kid there was a minor league hockey player playing for the Maine Mariners named Brian Burke. Travis' dad managed the rink so Travis and his dad got to know Brian pretty well. “In fact,” Travis said, “Brian Burke taught me how to pack my hockey bag at summer hockey camp.”

Eventually Brian hung up his skates and went to Harvard Law and became a lawyer. Then he went and worked for the law firm Palmer and Dodge which was the same law firm where Art Page- the gentlemen that would end up helping Travis after his accident, was working. So Art got to know Brian Burke.

Brian left the law firm and made his way back to the NHL…this time as a GM of the Vancouver Canucks, and  then as GM of the Anaheim Ducks and won the Stanley Cup there. More recently he went to Toronto where he is currently the GM and was also the GM of the US Olympic team at the last Olympics.

So it all goes back to again, just me being 5 years old and Brian being a minor league hockey player,” Travis said. “I went one way and he went the other and then our worlds came back together when he saw the headlines on the news the night of my accident. He called up his friends at his old law firm and said, ‘This is great family and can you help them out.' ”

The one thing that blows my mind is over the past 16 years the good will that just continues to follow my story,” Travis said when I asked him about fundraisers for his foundation. “This guy read my book 10 years ago in Vermont and he had a couple of kids who played youth hockey. He called up the foundation and said, 'Look, I built this replica of Fenway Park in my backyard and I think we could do a fundraiser.' ” That was the first year of the wiffle ball tournament. In that first year it was a 1 day tournament with 7 teams and raised about $4,000.00. Last year was the 9th year. It was a 3 day tournament with 24 teams and raised $380,000.00. “It has become our largest fundraiser. So again from the guy that read my book and decided to do a wiffle ball tournament, to the guy that taught me how to pack my hockey bag, the hockey community has been just phenomenal.”

Another woman who lives up in the North Shore in Boston heard about The Travis Roy Foundation and it just so happened that her husband played at BU in the early 1980's. She said she would like to host a party and do a fundraiser. She ended up doing 3 parties each summer and raised $150.000.00. “So there is the BU hockey family as well there,” Travis said.

With Travis living in Boston, I had to ask him if he was a Bruins fan? “I certainly am,” he said loud and clear. “Both my parents went to UVM and when I went there on my recruiting trip for college the freshman class was √Čric Perrin, Martin St.Louis, and Tim Thomas. Obviously I chose to go to BU but I've always enjoyed watching Tim Thomas,” Travis explained. "As intense and passionate as Tim is when he plays, he never seems to lose the joy of playing the game. You can clearly tell that he's having fun each and every game, win or lose. You can also tell he doesn't take playing in the NHL for granted.

It was such a pleasure to watch a team come together like that and even more pleasurable just to watch a guy enjoy and work hard to get to live that dream of Vezina, MVP, and Stanley Cup Champions,” Travis said.

The Travis Roy Foundation in the last 3 years has raised about $600.000.00 annually which is significant for an all volunteer/pro bono staff. They try to split the money 50/50 between research grants and individual grants that allow people with spinal cord injuries to be able to purchase adaptive equipment to improve their lives. “It's gut wrenching…literally,” Travis said. “Reading the quarterly trustee grant applicant stories and what they are going through and what they need. It's really hard to say no to any of them. If we were raising 5 million dollars a quarter we would be in good shape but unfortunately we're not.”

I love the quote from the dad who fell out of a tree while playing with his kids,” Travis said, referring to a gentleman who received a grant. “The family owned a three story home and what he needed was an elevator. So we got him the elevator and he hadn't been able to see his kids' rooms in 6 months. His quote was, 'I thank God on the way up and the Travis Roy Foundation on the way down.'”

I spent almost an hour that day talking to Travis and if you read my last blog post you know that I recorded the phone call on my computer. I have never hated the sound of my own voice more in my life! You can hear Travis who is such an articulate, well-spoken man and then my crazy voice struggling to come up with words other than “uhhhh” and the worst of all, the word “like”. I sounded like I turned into some valley girl from the 80's! Well, alright, I wasn't that bad but it was close.

In all seriousness, that day will forever be on my list of great days I've had in my life. I have to thank Mike at Center Ice News for getting me the interview in the first place and of course Travis Roy.

To Travis, You are such a gift to all the people you help and inspire. I know one day you will find yourself back on that road and this time get to take the other path. May you continue to find things you enjoy in life and all you look forward to. You will remain in my thoughts and prayers always. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

I started this article by talking about what you can do in 11 seconds. Well I bet that is just about the time it would take for you to click on the link below and be forever connected to the Travis Roy Foundation. Maybe someday they will raise 5 million dollars a quarter and never again have to turn away someone in need.

I will leave you with a quote I found on the foundation's website:

“There are times in our lives when we choose our challenges and other times when the challenges simply choose us. It is what we do in the face of those challenges that defines who we are, and more importantly, who we can and will become.”
- Travis Roy



Travis has a new online fundraising program called "The 24 Club". The concept is simple: Get 24 people to donate $24.00. You can read more about it on the Foundation's website here. I have created my own 24 Club page and made the first donation of $24.00 myself. I now need 23 more people to donate $24.00 (or even more if you like). I created a page on my blog to showcase the people, companies, and websites that sponsor The Hockey Connection's Travis Roy Foundation 24 Club.

To donate, go to my 24 Club Page and click on the words Sponsor Me below the goal thermometer. You can also click on the sponsor me link I just listed to go directly to the donation page. I thank you all in advance for your gift and ask you to please spread the word. Share this blog page with your friends on twitter and facebook. I would love to see the Travis Roy Foundation trending on twitter! I think all people in the hockey world and fans of the game should know Travis' story and about his foundation. I will do my best to spread the word and please ask you to do the same. Thank you so much!




Travis Roy Foundation on Facebook

Travis Roy Foundation on Twitter

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