Robert Paylor in hospital. The UC Berkeley rugby player was paralyzed from the chest down while playing in the national championships. Photo: GoFundMe

A UC Berkeley rugby player was paralyzed from the chest down while playing May 6 in the national championships – a title his team won.

Robert Paylor, 20, a sophomore from El Dorado Hills near Sacramento, was injured in the first few minutes of the game against Arkansas State at Stevens Stadium in Santa Clara. He was transported to the hospital where doctors operated on him. Family members later reported he was paralyzed with limited mobility in his arms.

“This will be a long and difficult journey for Robert and his outcome is uncertain,” the Paylor family said in a statement. “But we know his faith and determination will get him as far as he can go in regaining mobility. We are overwhelmed with the love and support we’ve received from people all over the country and ask that you continue to keep Robert in your prayers.”

Photos posted of Paylor in the hospital show the 6’ 5” athlete in a neck brace, but with a smile on his face.

Paylor’s friends have also set up a fundraising site for the athlete with the goal of collecting $1 million for the young man’s medical expenses. That is how much the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation says is the average cost to care for someone for the first year with high tetraplegia, according to the GoFundMe site.

“Robert’s road ahead is long, and very expensive,” Jennifer Osur Douglas, whose son plays on the Cal team, wrote. “Supporting Robert with whatever you can give and help relieve the financial burden would be greatly appreciated.  With financial assistance, Robert and his family can focus on his rehab and getting healthy and strong.”

The response has been tremendous. So far $281,000 has been raised, the GoFundMe site has been shared more than 8,000 times on Facebook and Twitter, and people have been writing in from all over the country to express their regret for his injury.

“My daughter, Meghan, was very moved by this story, as was I,” wrote Kimberly Peterson, who donated $100. “Before I could act, she asked me to donate, and offered her birthday money. So, this is from Meghan, class of 2029.”

“You’re a champ, Rob,” wrote George Salter. “You are in my thoughts and prayers every day. You’re the best teammate a bloke could ask for and we’re going to return the favour my being there for you every step along this journey. Stay strong brother.”

Paylor is a lock on the team. The Cal Rugby team, which defeated Arkansas State by 43-13, released a statement Tuesday.

“Our team is devastated by Rob’s injury,” said Jack Clark, the head coach. “There aren’t words to adequately explain our sorrow for what he and his family are going through. Rob is an extraordinary teammate, friend and student-athlete. As a University-recognized Scholar Athlete, he represents everything that is right and true about collegiate athletics. His challenges will be severe, long in duration and difficult beyond measure. Our team intends to be there with him every bit of the way.”

There will be a prayer service for Paylor Thursday at 8 p.m. at UC Berkeley, either at Newman Hall or Jesuit Theology Church. Details about the service will be posted soon.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...