In the face of a daunting task, Sammy Davis got nervous just like anyone else would. It wasn’t December’s 45-degree ocean water that bothered her, more so she was afraid of letting down the Travis Roy Foundation.
“I was nervous we wouldn’t reach our original goal,” Davis told The Wanderer.
Uncertainty proved to be no match for the 2015 Tabor Academy graduate and her friend, Jenna Seibold, who together swam offshore for 24 straight days in December and raised $15,372 for the Travis Roy Foundation.
The original goal was $2,400; it was topped in less than a week. Davis and Seibold blew their second goal of $5,000 out of the water as well. Momentum built as word got out, and more and more people wanted to jump in. A $14,000 goal was ultimately set, and they beat that one, too.
“We’re over $15,000, and we were still swimming,” said Davis, overwhelmed with community support that ranged from family and friends from Tabor, her native Pembroke, and the Boston University and Boston Pride hockey teams. Even Boston Bruins right winger Chris Wagner, a Walpole native, joined in the fun.
That Davis would find time to dedicate the first 24 days of December to such a fundraising mission alone suggests effort, considering holidays with the family, the advent of a professional hockey career— the BU graduate was drafted first overall into the National Women’s Hockey League by the Boston Pride— and a simultaneous path toward a doctoral degree in occupational therapy from Mass General Hospital Institute of Health Professions.
“It can get busy at sometimes and overwhelming,” said Davis, whose surgical history, including both hips and a hand injury that led to treatment by an occupational therapist, influenced her career choice.
Despite missing the entire 2017-18 hockey season, Davis came through successfully and returned to the Terriers in 2018-19 as a captain. She was named a Hockey East Distinguished Scholar by the conference.
In an interview with uscho.com, Davis described how the thoughts that led to the 24-day effort had been simmering while she was in school.
“Towards my end of my college career, I started learning that we have a voice and people want to listen to us. I knew I wanted to make change in something,” Davis said. “I’ve just been thinking a lot about Travis and thinking about how much he’s done to the hockey community and for people with spinal cord injuries in general. I just knew I wanted to do something for him. There are always people out there that need help. I think that that was one of our biggest takeaways. I feel like right now, in life, I am satisfied. I have everything that I could want. So how can I help somebody else?”
Roy, who passed away in October due to complications related to his paralysis, wore No. 24 with the BU men’s hockey team, which retired the number in his honor. By the end of 2020, the foundation bearing his name helped over 2,100 people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries. In 2020 alone, there were 156 Quality of Life recipients of grants from the foundation for equipment to significantly improve their day-to-day lives. The foundation also contributes to research, and Roy tirelessly advocated for stem-cell advances.
The idea for “Sammy Swims” came together at the gym where Davis works out and met Seibold, an Endicott College hockey player, who was 90 days into a 150-day swimming mission. Davis decided out of curiosity to take the dip. Then she connected the dots. “I already knew I wanted to donate money … why not do this? Let’s do 24 swims,” Davis told The Wanderer. “It went by so fast; it’s so crazy.”
Making time to volunteer for her community is something Davis was already doing while attending Tabor Academy. “She’s an incredibly giving person, and there is no better cause than the Travis Roy Foundation for her to contribute her time and treasure, especially during this year,” said Tabor Interim Head of School Julie Salit.
A three-sport star in field hockey, ice hockey, and softball, Davis excelled on the rink and was a First Team NEPSGIHA All-Star senior. In 2015, she was named winner of the Bruins’ John Carleton Memorial Trophy annually presented to the outstanding boys and girls high school hockey players in Massachusetts. Davis significantly expanded her hockey horizons in 2015 when she wore the “A” while helping Team USA’s U18 women’s team capture gold in the IIHF World Championships.
Davis continued climbing at Boston University, where she was unanimously selected to Hockey East’s All-Rookie Team and finished second in the running for 2015-16 Rookie of the Year. As a senior, she led the Terriers in scoring and completed her college career with 66-76-142 totals.
“If you’re really passionate about it and you want it, I love hockey, and I love being a part of a team. I told myself I’m going to have to make it work [and] sacrifice some things like a social life,” said Davis, whose lack of a conventional social life may hurt on certain days, but “one door closes and another door opens.”
Davis’ volunteerism with the Bandits, her Bridgewater-based junior hockey program, participation in clean-up efforts at Mattapoisett town beach and a recycling facility in New Bedford, volunteering at Acushnet-based Gifts to Give, and working with New Bedford kindergartners are some of the other ways she has taken the lead in her school community.
“She’s always been a leader. She was always one of those kids if something needed to get done,” said Tabor girls hockey coach Eric Long, who is also director of Admissions and Financial Aid. “As a high school kid, in the gym she was the hardest-working kid, getting up hours before school. She was the best role model for kids.”
Long compared Davis’ effect similarly to former local hockey players, including Rochester’s Haley Frade, who went on to play at Providence College, and Halle Silva, who went on to play at Northeastern University. Silva, now Halle Young, is Long’s assistant coach.
“All those kids, they feed into one another,” said Long, accentuating motivation that translates into academics and community involvement as being more integral to a program’s success than natural ability in a sport. “You have these kids who make my job really easy. They set the highest standard you can set…. Erin Kickham was that kid. [Davis] heard those names, too, and added on. It’s really neat to see the kids do that.”
While the destiny of the Tabor girls hockey season is not yet determined, students tentatively return to campus on January 28. “I’m hoping we can get some games in,” said Long, who will see four 2021 graduates leave to play in Hockey East schools next fall. “We haven’t created a bubble by any means, but we have a more closed community.”
Now six years removed from Tabor, Davis enjoyed revisiting the Marion campus for the final swim of her 24, accompanied by many supporters.
Her hockey will be played inside a bubble in Lake Placid, New York, beginning January 23. The six NWHL teams will play a five-game, round-robin schedule, followed by a playoff round that will produce four semifinalists and finally two finalists for a Friday, February 5, title contest for the Isobel Cup.
“I’ve been there before, it’s beautiful, it’s awesome and a great platform and great venue,” she said.
As her world expands and the adventures pile up, Davis remains confident that she’s never far from home and all the leaders who helped her get where she is. December’s chilly ocean resides in her mind like a summer dip.
“I think I benefitted more from [the fundraising project] than the foundation. I think I grew as a person, and I needed it,” said Davis. “It was the coolest 24 days I’ve ever been a part of and a great way to end 2020 on a positive note.”
By Mick Colageo