Travis Roy was a rising college hockey star when he was paralyzed in an accident on the ice in October 2005. He started a foundation that has raised more than $7 million for spinal cord research and adaptive equipment for other injured people.

Know a hero? Send suggestions to

Twenty-one years ago, Boston University freshman hockey player Travis Roy zipped onto the ice for his first college game, the realization of a childhood dream to play big-time college hockey.

“It was a special day,” says Roy, 41, of Boston. “It was my childhood dream to play for the Boston Bruins.”

But within 11 seconds, the star recruit crashed into the boards head first and couldn’t get up, paralyzed from the neck down that October 20.

Travis Roy in 1995, before his accident
| Credit: Travis Roy Foundation

Months later, when the reality set in that Roy would never walk again, Roy’s father Lee recalls saying to his son: ” ‘You can sit here at the train station and watch life go by or you can get on the train and see where it’s going to take you. There is still a life to be lived.’ ”

And it’s a life lived fully, thanks to what Travis Roy calls an “ocean” of support from family, friends and multitudes of strangers. “Community isn’t a strong enough word,” he says. “I swim in love all day long. It makes my life rich. It’s special.”

For more on Travis Roy, check out this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

The encouragement has enabled Roy for the last 20 years, through his Travis Roy Foundation, to raise over $7 million for research and adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs that others may need after a catastrophic spinal cord injury.

Jack Trottier with friend Jess Cayer in May 2014
| Credit: Courtesy Jack Trottier

But just as meaningful, Roy’s indomitable spirit has comforted the many who have lost as much as he has, like Jack Trottier.

The 21-year-old from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, paralyzed after a snowboarding accident, received a $7,000 grant for a lift in his home as well as Roy’s support and positive spirit. Says Trottier: “He is always there to help you.”

Roy is also a motivational speaker, with about 40 appearances a year. The bachelor spends his free time working on renovations to his Vermont cottage, and enjoying good food with friends and family. Says mom Brenda: “It means the world to me that he’s happy.”

Roy credits this happiness to his lifelong sense of gratitude.

“It has sort of been my lifeline,” he says. “For every moment where I am frustrated, I’ve had this natural reaction where I come up with two or three things where I say, ‘You have this, this and this and life is a lot easier than it could have been.’ “