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What: "Eleven Seconds: A Story of Tragedy, Courage and Triumph" by Travis Roy, with E.M. Swift; Warner Books, $20. Publication date Jan. 17.

January 13, 1998|HELENE ELLIOTT

The next time you hear an athlete complain that he's underpaid, misunderstood or has been hurt by some trivial slight by a coach or teammate, show him a copy of this book and make him read a few pages--and then dare him to utter another self-pitying word.

Travis Roy is the Boston University hockey player who, in a freak accident, hit the boards and suffered a cracked fourth vertebra 11 seconds into the first shift of his first college game. He cannot walk, can't use his left arm and has only minimal use of his right arm. He has no sensation below his shoulders and is in a wheelchair.

Writing in straightforward, simple language, Roy doesn't sugarcoat anything and readily acknowledges he has cried, sometimes with family and sometimes alone. He was an athlete and he savored what his legs and arms and muscles could do. Suddenly his independence was taken from him and his identity forever changed.

From the introduction, which will moisten the eyes of even the most cynical reader when Roy tells how he often dreams of being whole again and that "sometimes I want to dream the rest of my life away, and not wake up and have to get back into this chair," to the jarring clarity with which he describes the accident and his instant knowledge that "I knew it was over," Roy speaks in pragmatic but affecting tones. The twitch of a biceps muscle was a major victory, the kindness of a nurse who took him outside to experience a snowfall was an immeasurable blessing.

"Sometimes, with Maija [his girlfriend] I'd try to figure out why this had happened, what was the greater purpose," he wrote. "If something terrible had to happen, couldn't it have been quick and painless, like death? I used to compare them in my mind. Which would be worse? Death or being quadriplegic? I tried to weigh the pros and cons. Was anything worse than this? But every time, I'd decide it was better to be quadriplegic. It was harder, but better."

It's also better for the rest of us that he's here. The tragedy and courage are obvious; the triumph is of the spirit. Read this and appreciate what you have, and what Travis Roy will never have again. Your daily inconveniences and minor annoyances won't seem so awful.

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