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Burnt by the Fame
Allen Abel
March 09, 1998
Eleven Secondsby Travis Roy, with E.M. Swift Warner Books, $20.00
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March 09, 1998

Burnt By The Fame

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Eleven Seconds
by Travis Roy, with E.M. Swift
Warner Books, $20.00

"I'd become famous for all the wrong reasons," Travis Roy writes in his autobiography of an extraordinary life forged by a horrific accident.

Roy is a vital young man reduced—physically but not spiritually—to a nodding shell. In the fall of 1995 he was a promising Boston University leftwinger, a pumped-up freshman whose varsity hockey career lasted exactly as long as it takes to read this sentence. He went tumbling into the boards on his first shift. He never got up and most likely never will.

He had the fortune, ill or good, to become disabled on videotape. What followed the continual television replays of Roy's injury—a shattering of the fourth cervical vertebra—was a nationwide outpouring of sympathy and charity that left the athlete bewildered and beaten down. White, blond and pitiable, he became the perfect talking head. Twice he carried the Olympic flame, but each time he felt no thrill, no glory.

"It sparked no emotions at all," he writes. "I'd much rather have been one of those people standing there watching and cheering."

It is in the minute details of his disability in which Roy's book-written with SI's E.M. Swift—is most powerful: the bedsores, the spasms, the hallucinations, the inexplicable, searing pain that ignites when the human body, its normal pathways of communication snapped like a bridge in an earthquake, screams out for help from a detached and distant brain.

In the brilliant play Whose Life Is It Anyway? by English playwright Brian Clark, a quadriplegic named Ken Harrison pleads for the right to be left alone to die. Harrison is a sculptor rendered useless by the fracture of the same fourth vertebra. "My consciousness is the only thing I have," he declares, arguing for suicide, "and I must claim the right to use it."

This is the dark corridor that Roy has passed through, to find daylight, most days, on the other side. Deprived of his skates, his strength and—most important to him—his ability to embrace a girlfriend whose devotion is heroic, he finds himself drawing comfort from a vision of a better life to come, a vision that takes him back to the Walter Brown Arena, 11 seconds into his debut. "The instant I die, I'll go back to that moment, and I'll pick up again with that life I was supposed to have lived," he writes.