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Burnt by the Fame

March 09, 1998
March 09, 1998

Table of Contents
March 9, 1998

Burnt by the Fame

By Allen Abel

Eleven Seconds
by Travis Roy, with E.M. Swift
Warner Books, $20.00

This is an article from the March 9, 1998 issue Original Layout

"I'd become famous for all the wrong reasons," Travis Roy writes
in his autobiography of an extraordinary life forged by a
horrific accident.

Roy is a vital young man reduced--physically but not
spiritually--to a nodding shell. In the fall of 1995 he was a
promising Boston University leftwinger, a pumped-up freshman
whose varsity hockey career lasted exactly as long as it takes
to read this sentence. He went tumbling into the boards on his
first shift. He never got up and most likely never will.

He had the fortune, ill or good, to become disabled on
videotape. What followed the continual television replays of
Roy's injury--a shattering of the fourth cervical vertebra--was
a nationwide outpouring of sympathy and charity that left the
athlete bewildered and beaten down. White, blond and pitiable,
he became the perfect talking head. Twice he carried the Olympic
flame, but each time he felt no thrill, no glory.

"It sparked no emotions at all," he writes. "I'd much rather
have been one of those people standing there watching and
cheering."

It is in the minute details of his disability in which Roy's
book--written with SI's E.M. Swift--is most powerful: the
bedsores, the spasms, the hallucinations, the inexplicable,
searing pain that ignites when the human body, its normal
pathways of communication snapped like a bridge in an
earthquake, screams out for help from a detached and distant
brain.

In the brilliant play Whose Life Is It Anyway? by English
playwright Brian Clark, a quadriplegic named Ken Harrison pleads
for the right to be left alone to die. Harrison is a sculptor
rendered useless by the fracture of the same fourth vertebra.
"My consciousness is the only thing I have," he declares,
arguing for suicide, "and I must claim the right to use it."

This is the dark corridor that Roy has passed through, to find
daylight, most days, on the other side. Deprived of his skates,
his strength and--most important to him--his ability to embrace
a girlfriend whose devotion is heroic, he finds himself drawing
comfort from a vision of a better life to come, a vision that
takes him back to the Walter Brown Arena, 11 seconds into his
debut. "The instant I die, I'll go back to that moment, and I'll
pick up again with that life I was supposed to have lived," he
writes.
--Allen Abel

COLOR PHOTO: WARNER BOOKS [Cover of book Eleven Seconds by Travis Roy]