BOSTON — Travis Roy arrived at Boston University with his hockey skates. He leaves in a wheelchair.
"I think every day: How did my life end up this way? I don't think you ever accept it," he says.
On Sunday, like thousands of seniors nationwide, he will wear a cap and gown.
But few other graduates experienced the same brief euphoria of realizing a dream then the tragedy that snatched it away. Few could have endured the hardships Roy faced after he was paralyzed 11 seconds into his first shift in his first college hockey game.
Roy returned to the classroom the following fall and earned his degree in four years, excluding the year off for rehabilitation, with a B-plus average. He'll sit in the front row with other communications graduates Sunday.
"There's a lot of pride and a sense of accomplishment in getting through here in four years," he said.
Lee Roy, his father, will be in the crowd at the graduation ceremony.
"I guarantee, there'll be tears streaking down my face," he said. "It would be the same if he weren't paralyzed. The big difference is he'll be riding up instead of walking."
Boston University's NCAA hockey championship banner was raised on Oct. 20, 1995, before a large media contingent and TV audience.
Eleven seconds into the game, Roy leapt off the bench, raced to the corner, brushed into a North Dakota player and crashed headfirst into the boards.
He lay motionless behind the net. His father--a hockey rink manager in Maine and former college hockey player at Vermont--rushed from the stands to his side.
From that moment and to this day, Travis Roy has had no feeling below the shoulders and his only movement--in his right arm--is slight.
A boy who first skated when he was 20 months old, became a high school star and received an athletic scholarship to BU never would find out how good he could have been. Maybe as good as Chris Drury, who was on Roy's line when the injury occurred and is playing for the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
"I think I would have been in really good shape to play at least a few years of pro hockey," said Roy, of Yarmouth, Maine, "but we'll never know, and that's been hard."
Coach Jack Parker said: "He would have been one of the better players in Hockey East, and the better players in our league get a chance to play pro hockey."
Instead, Roy transferred his dedication from hockey to the classroom, using a voice-activated computer and having others take notes for him.
Jack Falla was his teacher in a sports public relations and marketing class and remembers Roy being absent just twice--once for a news conference, the other time when he couldn't get his wheelchair through the snow.
Then there was the day Falla glanced out the window as class was about to start and saw Roy rushing to be on time.
"I heard the elevator doors closing," Falla says. "Then I heard the whirring of the wheels, the tires in the empty corridor and Travis came around the door. I swear, he was on one wheel. Travis comes to play every day."
In his last semester, Roy was an intern in the sports publicity department.
"He couldn't answer the phone, but he did everything else," BU sports information director Ed Carpenter said. "I could see the athletic competitiveness he had. He wouldn't leave the office until the project he wanted to do that day got done."
Parker said Roy has been an inspiration to everyone.
"It's nice to be around him and see how he faces adversity," Parker said. "He helps us as much as we help him. It's amazing what he has to do just to get out the front door every morning."
Roy collaborated on a book about his life, called "Eleven Seconds," and he's spoken to dozens of groups and news conferences out of what he says is his feeling of obligation to address handicapped issues.
But socially, the popular high school kid says he was unfulfilled in college. He hung around with hockey players, but even that faded when his class graduated last May. Many nights he was in the quiet of his dorm room, alone except for one of the health aides who provide 24-hour care.
"I haven't had a whole ton of friends here," he says. "It really has been sort of gutting it out and making it through."
Now he must decide what to do next.
There's a movie project with screenwriter James Redford, son of Robert Redford, that will occupy Roy's immediate attention. There's summer at the family property in Vermont--"I can sit on the deck but I can't swim."