When Janne Kouri's doctor said he would never walk again, he didn't believe it. "Doctors could never tell people what they're capable of," said Kouri, who was paralyzed in 2006 after an accident off the California coast. "Having a positive attitude is innate in me. I never thought of giving up. Not for a second." Kouri decided to try a new therapy known as locomotor, which proponents say helps the damaged spinal cord remember how to control motor functions. But when he began therapy, he discovered something that shocked him. "There are 6 million people living paralysis and 1.3 million people living with spinal injuries. They need somewhere to go for treatment after they're released from the hospital, and most of the time they are just sent home with no resources," said Kouri, who had to travel to Kentucky for his therapy—quite a distance from his home in Los Angeles. "Insurance only covers you for a few weeks. The vast majority of people have no type of access to getting the proper rehabilitation within their community and if they do, it's not affordable." So Kouri took action and founded NextStep Fitness — a nonprofit organization and fitness center in Los Angeles designed specifically for those with physical disabilities. "Just because someone can't walk, doesn't mean they shouldn't be moved and upright," he said. "I saw improvements in my blood pressure and circulation immediately after I started getting locomotor training. And people can come and be in an environment like a regular gym. You see their mood shift when they feel supported and they're with other people dealing with similar struggles. It's empowering to know you aren't alone." Kouri hopes he can raise enough awareness to expand NextStep Fitness centers into cities throughout the country. "These need to be available so when people are dealing with these types of issues they don't have to pick up and move the entire family to another state," he said. "Everyone should be able to stay home and continue to have access to the best care." On Oct. 13, Janne will be at the Ivy Room in Chicago for his "Help Make a Difference" fundraiser, which helps support the NextStep Fitness program. To learn more about getting NextStep Fitness in your community, visit www.nextstepfitness.org.
Photo courtesy of Janne Kouri