A life-threatening injury didn't stop Robert Paylor from being an inspiration for over 60,000 students at Berkeley and beyond
It's always hard to be a student-athlete. Robert Paylor, from El Dorado Hills, California, knew that when he was accepted into the Cal Bears Rugby team.
On arriving at UC Berkeley in Fall 2015, Paylor was faced with a stiff challenge. He was the best player for his high school team, but in the Bears squad each player was better than the best. Nevertheless, Robert was determined to give it his all.
In his freshman year, Paylor wasn't picked for the A team and spent most of his time playing for the B team perfecting his skills and building his physique. He finally made the cut in his sophomore year (2017) as a starter in the A team.
However, the day would be remembered as more than just his first day as a starter for the Cal Bears A squad. It changed his life in a way no one ever expected.
Being born into a family of sports fans and athletes, Robert was always into sports. He had a big build, which worked to his advantage as a competitive athlete. However, Paylor knew absolutely zilch about rugby until he was in Grade 8.
It's not surprising that he was introduced to the game in his high school, Jesuit High in Sacramento, California, which had a solid program in the sport.
In an interaction with Sportskeeda, Paylor recalls his initial years.
"In my first year on the team at Jesuit High, we won the National Championship, and I received the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award after working very hard on my game and physical strength. This was an extremely special year for me."
Asking Paylor if he was alright talking about the incident that changed his life, his reply stunned me.
"I remember it very clearly, and I am fine talking about it. Rugby is a huge part of my identity, and it's shaped who I am. I went into my first game with the A team in a very positive mindset to do my best.
We played against the Arkansas State. Sometime into the game, I was attacked around my neck in an on-lock, which is supposed to be an automatic red/yellow card in rugby. I immediately rolled over my head and face, broke a bone in my neck, and I couldn't move.
The support staff and all the other team members, including my parents, were there on the field besides me, but I was just screaming in pain. Everything that they asked me about my sensations, I couldn't agree to. In that time, I knew life had changed for me forever.
I was taken to the hospital immediately, where the doctor told me that I will not be able to walk again. My lower body had been paralyzed. I then went into a life-threatening surgery but somehow managed to survive it. However, I caught pneumonia two days later and wasn't able to cough out my infections. I was also not able to swallow or eat anything and lost 60 pounds, all my efforts on building my physique going in vain. Nevertheless, I knew that I had hope and only I could change my life again."
In just a second, his life was altered.
Rehabilitation for eight or nine hours a day was the first step forward. He went to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, USA for his treatment. He made incremental moves and went from touching just a finger/toe to now being fully independent in doing his daily chores.
His next big transition was when he was accepted into the Haas School of Business Undergraduate program at Berkeley-Haas. He was back to being a full-time student and continued his life as he had somewhat imagined it previously.
When asked about his decision to study business, Paylor mentioned that he really liked that business could be applied anywhere and had extremely practical applications in the real world. He had always wanted to study business administration, and so it was a dream come true for him when he was accepted into the program.
Rugby is a team game and for Robert being a part of this Cal Bears team was always special. And his head trainer, Jack Clark, always made him feel welcome.
"I will always remember what coach said to me when I told him that I was no longer going to be playing for the team. He said, Robert you will always be a part of this team."
The team now takes time out to support Robert, taking turns to take him to his classes and other campus activities, giving him the mental and moral support needed for his recovery. Besides, Paylor mentions that just to have someone to talk to has been a huge help in his whole journey after the devastating injury. The team makes sure to do as much as they can for their fellow member, and a GoFundMe campaign was started to help him. They've already raised over $800,000 to help.
Now, as he moves to his final year as an undergraduate student at the Berkeley Haas Campus, Robert has turned his leadership and communications classes to his advantage. He has become a motivational speaker, sharing his story prove the that willpower and dedication can go a long way.
As they say in sport, "It's not over until the final whistle blows." One can only wait to see where he goes from here.