Survivor. Visionary. Non-Profit Entrepreneur.
Photographed by Jeff Berting
In one day, everything can change. In August 2006, Janne Kouri, an avid athlete, dived into the ocean between volleyball games and hit a sandbar. In a brief moment, both his C5 and C6 vertebrae fractured, and he became paralyzed from the neck down. That moment also led to his new life mission and passion—an organization that would help disabled citizens all over the country.
For his recovery, Janne moved to Louisville, Kentucky for a year to utilize the cutting edge Locomotor Training at a rehab facility. However, when he came home, he found that California did not have any facilities for him to continue his therapy and training regime. His situation revealed to him the severe lack of options for the disabled. “That was a very shocking experience. Reality hit me smack in the face about what the problem was right now in the United States,” he says.
Rather than give up his training, he created the non-profit organization NextStep Fitness in the hope of opening fitness facilities specifically for the disabled. His vision became a reality with the state-of-the-art facility in the South Bay, and now NextStep is expanding to New York, Las Vegas, Florida, Washington, DC and Canada. “Unfortunately without the proper resources, somebody with any type of disability can very easily suffer from secondary complications and health issues,” he explains. “So at NextStep, we try to insure that anybody suffering from a disability has access to the resources that are essential to their survival.”
Injured in a skiing accident about a year ago, the doctors had a grim outlook for Amanda Tim. Her whole life changed as she and her family moved from their home in Calgary to take advantage of NextStep’s services in the South Bay.
“The doctors told her that she had no hope of ever walking again and no hope of recovery. Only months after being here at NextStep, she actually went bungee jumping, and now she goes hand cycling on the weekends,” Janne says energetically. “Her doctors are just shocked at her recovery. She is obviously an extremely motivating inspiration to all. It’s also inspiring to know that the services we provide are making such a big difference in people’s lives.”
This May, NextStep is promoting their Wheelchair for a Day Challenge. This nationwide challenge encourages able-bodied people to spend a day in a wheelchair to help educate people about living with a disability and help NextStep raise funds and spread their vision across the country. “I don’t think you really understand what it’s like to live with a disability until you actually experience it for yourself,” Janne says of the challenge.