Priya knows a lot about pumping iron and doing what it takes to look her best. Born in India and now living in Orange County, CA, Kaur was an athlete and fitness contestant before a severe concussion in 2017 left her incapacitated and leaving her career in jeopardy. But Kaur is no quitter. She developed her own protocol for healing and is now pumping her way back to health, one barbell at a time, one jog at a time, with a daily regime of discipline and sweat. Her goals now are not just to compete, but to inspire and motivate others. Kaur spoke with ABILITY’s Chet Cooper about her journey back to health and how she sees her injury in a whole new light.
Chet Cooper: When did you get involved in fitness competition?
Priya Kaur: Four years ago I started competing in bikini shows and national fitness contests.
Cooper: Was this in the States or in India?
Kaur: In the States.
Cooper: Had you been doing any competitions in India?
Cooper: What drew you to the fitness industry?
Kaur: I actually started backpacking and traveling in northern California, and when I got back to Orange County, I met with a girlfriend in Long Beach who did a lot of bodybuilding shows and pageants. She got me involved in bodybuilding. I didn’t want to be fat then. I wanted a change of pace in my life, and I thought that after backpacking and rock climbing, jumping right into bodybuilding would be an easy transition.
Cooper: How old were you when you started fitness training?
Kaur: I started training in fitness at the age of 18, back in 2008, but I started competing in bodybuilding and bikini shows in 2013.
Cooper: What caused your head injury?
Kaur: The head injury happened one year ago. I got into a freak accident, a fight, and the person who attacked me smacked me against the wall, like 10 or 20 feet away, and I was in a concussion after that for several months. That was my entire year.
Cooper: So the concussion laid you up for many months…
Kaur: With an inability to remember anything.
Cooper: And how are things now? What’s the rehab for something like that?
Kaur: I couldn’t get to work, so I lost my job. I didn’t really have rehab or therapy. But I had a lot of friends who are educated, and in the industry, who recommended just getting up and just doing things, regardless of not having health. So I just continued to work. I got fired from every job I applied for. I still continued to work and show up at certain jobs, though. I just continued to work on projects and volunteered a lot, and then by the time the last four or five months came around, just recently, my memory improved. All my abilities have improved.
Cooper: You just dealt with it yourself?
Kaur: Well, yeah because I’m an independent person. I’ve always lived away and on my own. I lost my job when I actually just started competing aggressively, and that was around the time that my injury occurred. After it happened, I didn’t have much help from anyone because, as I was saying, all the memories were not there, so my first step in rehabilitating myself was just acknowledging the fact that I was injured and immobile and not able to do anything at that time, which was about a year ago. And then the next step was learning to acknowledge my surroundings and the things that actually matter to a person who’s unable to do anything for themselves. Mentally, that’s a very tough process for anyone. If you’ve watched Stephen Hawking’s story, you know what it is to be helpless, and it’s very similar to that.
Cooper: How long were in this state of helplessness?
Kaur: The first month. But I have an amazing willpower to push through problems and obstacles, mainly because I’ve been an athlete since 2008. And, since childhood, I’ve been very aggressive about pursuing what I want in life. So within a month or two, I was easily able to push through that mental barrier that kept me from understanding problems and being helpless and in a wheelchair. I was able to get up and walk and understand the problem of being in pain and how to work through the pain. I had a support system of friends in the LA area who didn’t want to see me fail. So learning to work through the pain and just giving myself up entirely to God was a big step in making progress.
Cooper: The fact that it’s an invisible condition probably didn’t help.
Kaur: Well, it’s not an invisible condition because being helpless and unable to understand your surroundings, names, colors, people, any of that, makes you feel like a vegetable. Being told by close friends that I either had to make an effort or I’d lose all of my abilities is not a fun response to hear at all. That’s not something anyone wants to hear. It’s not a fun life for anyone. So that’s the state of mind I was in.
To get someone out of that, you either leave them there, or you encourage them to pull themselves out of it. Honestly, I just got myself out of it. I didn’t want to just stay in that place. I didn’t want to feel like a person who just gets up and feels sick and in pain for the rest of her life. It’s better to just get up and push through the pain. It worked.
Cooper: How do you feel now? Do you feel like you’re getting better each day?
Kaur: Yeah. I still put in effort every single day. I definitely improved a lot from a year ago. A funny thing, I think I’ve actually improved more from before my injury because my willpower to succeed and to move and to create things in the world and to inspire others is actually much stronger than it was before my injury. Am I completely back to running a triathlon again? Definitely not yet. But I’m walking, I’m jogging. It’s not an hour triathlon, an hour run, but I’m definitely on the treadmill and I’m making an effort again. And that’s what matters. I’m jumping. I’m moving. My mood is great. My emotions are excellent. I’m a happy person. I’m definitely not depressed. I think before my injury, I was quite depressed. Going through that injury, I feel like it’s definitely been a blessing. And that’s kind of what I want to talk about, the blessings that it’s actually brought into my life.
Before the injury, I was unappreciative of my blessings and what I have. Now that I’m dug out of all of that, I’m actually healthy, and I feel like miracles are real. Giving up is not a choice or an option for anyone, even if you have to struggle in life and live through pain. That’s what you have to do to dig yourself out.
Cooper: Do you have plans to enter more competitions?
Kaur: I’m competing—in December and prepping for that competition. So then that kind of closes off that chapter and diminishes the doubt and voice in my mind that says I can’t do it. It’s time to get back into competitions again. Actually, I’m going to get up and go work out today, too. It’s going to be the hardest thing on the planet, but I’m still going to go do that today. (laughs)
I’m going to make an attempt to go run and make an effort to work out. Pushing weights is still a challenge because I hate doing that now. But it’s mostly a mental challenge, more so than a physical one. I think overcoming that challenge of getting up in the morning was the hardest part. Since I pushed past that barrier and obstacle, I feel like my body’s definitely recovered, and I feel much better.
Cooper: Good to hear. Anything else you want to add?
Kaur: Just never give up.