Dust in the wind...on ice

 

Travis Roy had worked his whole life for the night of October 20th, 1995. It was his dream to play Division I hockey, and that night – as a highly-touted freshman prospect – he was skating onto the ice at Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena for the first time. He was a member of the defending national champion BU Terriers; it was the highlight and pinnacle of his career. All those years of playing, of practicing, of working, of dreaming. They had all brought Travis Roy there, to that moment. He skated onto the ice for his first shift, and his new adventure began. And then, just like that…it was over.

E.M. Swift’s 1995 Sports Illustrated article aptly titled “Eleven Seconds” describes it best. “Eleven seconds into his first shift of his first college game – minutes after the Terriers had unfurled their 1995 national championship banner – with his family in the stands and the last of his high school coaches proudly looking on, Travis lost his balance while trying to put a little something extra into a check. He hit the end boards with the top of his helmet and fell to the ice like a rag doll, utterly inert.”

Eleven seconds. All the playing, all the practicing, all the working, all the dreaming. All those years, and just like that, it was over. Over in eleven seconds. Roy had cracked the fourth and fifth vertebrae in the collision, and in a heartbeat went from one of the elite hockey prospects in the country to a quadriplegic, lying face down on the ice, who would never walk – let alone skate – again.

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If you’re here today, reading about raising champion athletes and people, then your kid’s probably doing a lot of playing, and practicing, and working, and dreaming, too. It’s painful to imagine how devastating the night of October 20, 1995 turned out to be for Travis Roy and his parents, Lee and Brenda, and painful to imagine any of us finding ourselves in a similar situation. But I do hope that the Roys' powerful story can clarify some important areas of perspective for you today – perspective required to become a champion sports parents of your own.

First and foremost, I hope it can help you see clearly how fragile and fleeting this sports experience can be. Hopefully none of us will ever have to deal with our child’s career-ending injury, especially as debilitating as one involving a spinal cord. But even if you don’t have to deal with that – even if he gets to play it all the way out, your child’s sports career will probably be over before you know it, and very likely sooner than you think. Travis Roy’s story proves that this whole thing can literally vanish in no time. The classic rock band Kansas may not have been singing specifically about your son’s athletic experience, but they probably could’ve been, because all it is, really, is dust in the wind. For the Roy family, Travis’s experience as an athlete blew away like dust in the wind on that October night more than 20 years ago, right there on the ice in Boston. For any of us, it could all be gone sooner than we think.

Your child’s sports career will probably be over before

you know it, and very likely sooner than you think.

Next, as a sports parent I hope you’ll see clearly your blessing instead of your burden. In this day and age, it’s so easy for our experience in sports parenting to turn ugly – busy, stressful, or burdensome. We complain. We worry. We criticize. Often we allow what should be one of the great opportunities we have in the life of our kids to get distorted into something more like an obligation. I hope today you’ll be intentional about making sure it doesn’t. Instead, enjoy it. Because you see today for what it is (and how quickly it can be gone), you can show up filled more with gratitude than stress. You can cheer. Clap. You know, smile. If it was the last game your child ever played, you’d be glad you did.

Finally, I hope you’ll see clearly that even though much of it can vanish in an instant, there are some things from your son’s sports experience that will last. You have a great opportunity to use his time as an athlete and to help him develop the qualities he’ll need for success beyond the game – whenever that comes. That’s what Travis Roy did. Even as a young hockey player, Roy was known for his uncommon toughness and resiliency on the ice. His dad Lee, a former hockey player himself, had been intentional about developing it. When Travis Roy the hockey player got knocked down, everyone in the arena knew he was going to get back up – it had become part of his identity. So it’s really not all that surprising who Travis Roy has become in the years since his tragedy. He’s become in life who hockey – and his dad – helped teach him to become.

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Over the last 20 years, Roy has traveled the country as a motivational speaker, and the Travis Roy Foundation has raised more than $10 million to help survivors of spinal cord injuries and to fund research for a cure. Though still confined to a wheelchair, he has worked relentlessly to regain some minor mobility in his right arm. It’s safe to say that the champion athlete, handling the puck with ease back then on the ice, has become a champion man today in life. His toughness and resiliency are still on display.

When he fell hard and his hockey career vanished like dust in the wind, Travis Roy did what he’d always done. Even when he couldn’t move a muscle, he chose to get back up. May each of us as sports parents learn some powerful lessons from his story. May we take advantage of the great opportunity we have to help our kids learn how to get back up too, and in the process, raise champion athletes and people of our own. Now let's get to work! Who knows, our opportunity may be gone sooner than we think.

-Travis

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