NESN documentary poignantly shows the grace with which Travis Roy lived, and the impact he had

Roy’s story is more than familiar to New England sports fans; it’s part of the region’s fabric.

In its 25 years, the Travis Roy Foundation has raised more than $20 million, and awarded more than $5.6 million in grants. GLOBE STAFF PHOTO BY STAN GROSSFELD

NESN’s new documentary on Travis Roy gets to the heart of who he was before and beyond suffering a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down 11 seconds into Boston University hockey career.

It gets to your heart, too.

The hourlong film, titled “Travis Roy: A Life & A Legacy,” premieres Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on NESN, and will re-air Sunday at 5 p.m. and Tuesday at 6 p.m. Roy’s story is more than familiar to New England sports fans; it’s part of the region’s fabric.

But NESN’s documentary — which tells the story of his life in full, framed by his annual Wiffle ball fund-raiser in Vermont for his foundation — does a remarkable job of reminding us of who Roy was before his 1995 accident, and all that he did to help others before dying in October 2020 at age 45.


“We wanted to remind people about the player and the person before the accident,” said Tom Caron, who narrates and conducts the interviews in the documentary, including those with Roy’s parents, Lee and Brenda, and sister Tobi. “I think he was just always an inspirational person. Whether that was playing in the NHL or something else, he was going to be a leader in whatever he did.”

Caron, like Roy a native Mainer, was an excellent choice — he called Roy’s high school state championship game on Maine television in the early ‘90s, before either had arrived in Boston. Dale Arnold, the play-by-play voice for the AHL’s Maine Mariners when Lee Roy was the arena manager and Travis was a stick boy, also provides depth and poignancy to Roy’s early years.

Roy, with his blond hair and ever-present smile, percolated charisma, yet was perceptive beyond his years. A speech to classmates he made during his time at Tabor Academy detailing his 10 rules of life still resonates with those who heard it.

Considering how cruelly brief his college hockey career was, NESN has a relative trove of footage from his time at BU, including video from a Midnight Madness scrimmage. It also shows the immediate aftermath of his injury in more agonizing detail than I can recall seeing.


The entire documentary is poignant, but there is a pivotal moment when it is particularly so. Jack Parker, Roy’s coach at BU and a rock of a friend afterward, recalls a night a few months after the accident when Roy confided to him that he feared he would never have anything as fulfilling in his life as hockey.

“If he was a player that got hurt in his junior year, he would have had all these experiences with his teammates that he could talk about and hang with, we did this and we did that,” says Parker in the documentary. ” ‘Remember this, Trav? Remember that, Trav?’ Well, there’s no ‘remember that’ with his teammates. He only played 11 seconds.”

Parker promised Roy that he would find something else he was passionate about, and he did — helping others who had suffered spinal cord injuries. In 1996, the Travis Roy Foundation was founded, initially operating out of his bedroom. By the time it reached its 25th anniversary this year, it had helped more than 2,000 individuals with grants and donations to spinal cord research.

The Wiffle ball fund-raiser at Little Fenway in Vermont alone brought in more than $7.5 million in 20 years, including more than $1 million at the August event this year when NESN’s production team was there shooting footage.


“He probably did more in his lifetime as a quadriplegic than he ever would have as a hockey player,” says Lee Roy in the film.

Former Boston Pride player Denna Laing and former Norwood High player Matt Brown, both of whom suffered spinal injuries playing hockey, are among those interviewed who were aided by Roy’s foundation and friendship.

“We can’t imagine what his bad days were like, but they were a hell of a lot tougher than our bad days,” said Caron. “But he seemed to know that people had to see the best Travis Roy in order to help the foundation, and get people the help they needed.”

Said Arnold: “He took the worst moment … and he turned it into a lifetime of good.”

In the last months of his life, Roy made the decision that 2021 would be the final full year of the foundation, and it will begin to wind down operations in 2022.

“He had the foresight to recognize that it might become more difficult to keep going after he’s gone,” said Caron. “It would be easy to raise money next year, and maybe the year after, but five years from now, 10 years from now, with changing jobs and lives, it might become more challenging, and he didn’t want to put that weight on anyone.”

In its 25 years, the foundation has raised more than $20 million, and awarded more than $5.6 million in grants. Its trustees are engaging with other nonprofits with the intention of establishing programs that will continue Roy’s mission.


But his legacy of grace and generosity even after facing unthinkable circumstances is long since secure.

“You want to continue Travis Roy’s legacy?” says Parker late in the documentary. “Do something nice for somebody tomorrow.”


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