His teammates immediately gravitated to him. He wasn't cocky or loud. He worked hard. He was friendly. One of his roommates, Scott King, didn't believe Travis was a hockey player when they met. Travis was too nice.
The first official day of practice for the Terriers came on Oct. 4 with Midnight Madness, an event adapted from college basketball. Brenda and Lee made the drive down from Yarmouth. "The arena was almost full," Brenda recalls. "They were playing We Are the Champions. It was fun. Travis had worked so hard, and we weren't going to miss a thing."
Tobi, too, was in the stands for Midnight Madness, even though she had a nursing shift starting at 7 a.m. After missing Travis's entire high school career while she was studying at Syracuse, she was thrilled to have her brother playing right down the street. Tobi and her fiancé, Keith Vanorden, had even put off their wedding to accommodate the BU hockey schedule. They had planned to get married this fall but had postponed the wedding until spring, so Travis wouldn't have to miss any games.
In the early practices Travis impressed Parker with his hockey sense. "He was real well schooled in all three zones, which is very unusual for a freshman," Parker says. When it came time for the new players to select numbers, Parker steered Travis toward 24, since the number he had worn at Tabor, 14, was already taken. "We've had some guys with real character wear that number," Parker says. Last year's captain, Jacques Joubert, had worn 24. So had Mike Sullivan, the Terrier captain in '89-90, who is now a forward for the Calgary Flames. That's who Travis reminded Parker of: Sullivan. "Travis would have been a real good player in this league," Parker says, "and historically that means he'd have had a shot at the NHL."
It was all coming true, just the way Travis had planned it when he drew up his list of goals at age 14. Parker had decided to rotate his freshmen in and out of the lineup for the first few games. Two days before the opener against North Dakota, he gave Travis the news: He would be skating that first night on a line with Chris Drury and Mike Sylvia, two sophomore lettermen of considerable talent. Later that day Tobi discovered Travis working on an English paper at her kitchen table, listening to Vivaldi at full volume. "He was so wired," she says. "It meant the world to him that he'd play the night they dropped the championship banner."
Even better, Parker had told Travis he would skate on the first line with Terrier captain Jay Pandolfo and assistant captain Bob Lachance in the second game. It would be played at Vermont, where Lee Roy is a member of the athletic Hall of Fame. "He'd have been introduced in the starting lineup," says Lee, "with his father in the crowd with tears in his eyes. Storybook."
Except, as was so cruelly reinforced 11 seconds into Travis's college career, with his loved ones looking on and his dreams slipping out of his motionless fingers, life is no storybook. It's page after page of land mines and small jewels, a volume of survival without a back cover to foretell the end. Travis knew. Set goals, he'd told his schoolmates in his speech six months earlier. But take nothing for granted.
The Roys learned the worst that first night, after X-rays had been taken at Boston City Hospital. Travis's fourth cervical vertebra had "exploded," in the word of one of the doctors, when his helmet struck the boards. His spinal cord, which carries nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body, had been damaged by the impact, so he had no movement or feeling below his neck. When Lee and Brenda went to bed that night, they had been told that Travis's chances of recovery were "remote" and that they should be prepared for the possibility that Travis would remain a quadriplegic. Each time she rolled over in bed that night, Brenda wondered if Travis would ever roll over again. Each time she touched Lee's arm, she wondered if her son would ever feel such a touch.
The initial bleak prognosis hasn't changed in the intervening weeks, though everyone involved in the case continues to hope. In the meantime, Travis's life has been as close as one cares to imagine to a living hell. After undergoing surgery to stabilize his neck and remove shards of shattered bone, Travis had a bout with pneumonia, a common side effect of severe spinal injuries. The steroids he was given to reduce the swelling in his spinal cord resulted in stomach ulcers. He had a reaction to an antibiotic that gave him a fever that spiked up to 105.5°. His right lung partially collapsed. For 17 days two tubes were kept down his throat: one to feed him, one to help him breathe. When the tubes were finally removed, Travis was given a tracheotomy—again, to help his breathing. As a result he has been unable to talk, a condition likely to continue until the end of November, when doctors hope to remove the tracheal tube. The only way Travis has been able to communicate is by blinking his eyes, nodding and, when he can summon the strength, smiling.
"After the first operation, he wanted to know what was going on," Tobi says. "He has a spelling board. He blinks his eyes when you get to the right letter. It's very tedious. We told him, 'We don't know if you're going to be able to move your arms and legs again. This is where the fight starts. Do you want to know more?' He shook his head. Are you angry?' He shook his head. Are you sad?' He nodded.