College students across the country were disappointed that they wouldn’t have the chance to cross the stage and receive their diplomas this year as schools transformed their graduation ceremonies into virtual experiences in response to COVID-19. For Rob Paylor, that walk was of even greater significance; as a patient at Craig Hospital following a spinal cord injury (SCI) in 2017, Rob was looking forward to standing tall with his walker and taking those momentous steps in front of family and friends.
But Rob is nothing if not adaptable, and this temporary disappointment was simply part of the ups and downs of life for him. As Rob likes to say, “Every day is a gift, and with a little perspective, you realize that whatever challenge you are facing is something that you can overcome.”
Rob graduated from UC Berkeley this past May with a degree in business and plans to share his message of perspective as a motivational speaker with people across the country. Rob says he teaches that perspective can be a powerful tool to help people realize that they have it within themselves to accomplish what they want. Rob uses the phrase “Compared to what?” to keep himself motivated and working toward his goals. As he tells his audiences, someone may be thinking to themselves “But I’m so tired!”, but then can ask: “Compared to what?” Compared to someone training for a marathon? Keep running and make it to your three-mile goal. “There is always someone else who is facing a greater challenge or a longer uphill battle; you can find it within yourself to push just a little bit more,” Rob says.
Rob has always been a hard worker who has pushed his body to its physical limits, but facing an SCI put his determination to the test. Rob had an outstanding high school career as a star rugby player on the national championship team. He got a starting spot on the UC Berkeley team, the top team in the nation with 33 national championships, when he was just a sophomore. But when a maul on the rugby field went bad one day in May 2017, Rob was forced to fall to the field with his head pinned to his chest, breaking his neck as he hit the ground.
Rob traveled to Craig Hospital from northern California for his SCI rehabilitation because he says, “Craig gave me a chance when no one else was giving me one.” Rob wanted to work as hard as he possibly could to get movement back in his legs, and he says that Craig was the only place that showed they were up to the challenge with him. With eight hours of therapy a day, it was clear to Rob that Craig would push him to his limits and help him achieve the best possible outcome.
After three weeks of work at Craig, Rob felt a muscle twitch in his lower extremities, inspiring him to work harder. He was not going to give up on dreaming big dreams, like graduating from college, starting a family and living his life, and this all started with challenging himself to achieve the most at Craig. Rob also recognized that he was going to need help, so his family was involved every step of the way. He would even rope in friends to assist with his therapies whenever they came to visit. It takes a village, and Rob wasn’t afraid to get his community involved.
All of that hard work paid off, and Rob walked out of Craig on his own with his walker 11 months after his injury fully independent and able to take care of himself, from putting on his clothes and cooking to being able to get outside and enjoy nature. He went on to enjoy an internship with Intel where he was the only intern of his class invited back, and now he is embarking on a journey to become a motivational speaker.
Just a year and a few months after his injury, Rob walked on the UC Berkeley football field with his walker and his family to a roaring crowd. Another important milestone for Rob was in May 2020 when he returned to the site of his injury, the Witter Rugby Field at UC Berkeley, and walked triumphantly across the grass. It was a powerful moment of strength and overcoming adversity for him, and Rob says he is determined to keep challenging himself, growing and building community all across the country.