Manhattan Beach

First Step after Paralysis: Janne’s Story

Written by Janne Kouri, Founder of NextStep

On August 5th, 2006, Georgetown University Football Hall of Fame Athlete, Janne Kouri, was paralyzed from the neck down and told he would never walk again. While playing beach volleyball in Manhattan Beach, Janne dove into the waves to cool off. His head struck a sandbar, and he broke his C5 and C6 vertebrae. He was instantly paralyzed from the neck down and his doctors told him there was no hope for recovery. 

After coding two times and spending two months in the ICU, it was time for Janne to start his rehabilitation. Janne and Susan soon discovered that there was no progressive rehab centers anywhere in California. How was that possible, they wondered. California is the seventh largest economy in the world and there is no good rehabilitation hospitals? After traveling around the country, Susan finally discovered where they needed to go. Susan met Dr. Susan Harkema at Frazier Rehab in Louisville, KY. Dr. Harkema was and still is the pre-eminent neuro researcher and rehab specialist in the world. She was the first person to tell Susan that there was “hope!” That is all it took. Janne and Susan traveled to Frazier Rehab in Louisville to participate in a cutting edge rehabilitation for individuals with Spinal Cord Injury called “Locomotor Training.” Janne saw great improvements, but he wondered what others in his situation were doing. Those that couldn’t afford to move, didn’t have good insurance, and didn’t have family support. Janne had friends and family visiting daily for an entire year, others on his floor did not. Janne had great insurance so he was able to stay at Frazier for an entire year. However, on average, insurance only covers 31 days of hospital based rehab and then people are sent home.   

The vast majority of the 6M people suffering from paralysis are stuck at home with no access to therapy, which can sadly result in serious illness and in some cases death.  

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in SCI patients. Other common life-threatening secondary conditions include heart disease, diabetes, pressure ulcers, bone fractures, pulmonary infections and bladder infections.  

After Janne’s insurance coverage ended, it was time to move home to Hermosa Beach. Upon moving home, Janne quickly discovered that there is a complete lack of community rehab, fitness, and health resources available to the six million people living with paralysis in America.  

He decided something had to be done and started his non-profit, NextStep (www.nextstepfitness.org). 

On June 5th, 2008, Janne opened the doors to NextStep, a progressive and affordable paralysis recovery center in the South Bay, which has since expanded to six cities across the U.S. and, two locations abroad. NextStep is committed to expanding to communities nationwide and globally to ensure that everyone living with paralysis has access to the resources they need and deserve.  

By offering comprehensive activity based therapy programs, the world’s best certified trainers, and state-of-the-art equipment; their centers provide the best chance for recovery, independence, and health. Their interventions are designed from scientific and clinical evidence for recovery of mobility, posture, standing, and walking and improvements in health and quality of life. 

Their mission is to make life-changing rehab accessible and affordable to those living with paralysis. Click below to watch Janne’s TEDx talk in Venice Beach. 

NextStep subsidizes 70% of their membership fees through fundraising. The goal is to make their services affordable and available to people from all socio-economic classes. Therefore, we rely on donations to keep the doors open at all our centers. Many of their interventions require up to four (4) trainers per client so it is quite expensive to operate the centers. NextStep raises money through annual benefits in cities nationwide, crowdfunding events, grant writing, and private donations and corporate sponsorships. The best way to support NextStep is to join their loyalty society, NextStep 365. (www.nextstep365.org) Starting at $1/day for individuals and $100/month for businesses you will become a part of a dedicated community invested in a world where all individuals living with paralysis have access to affordable, cutting-edge rehab and fitness. During these difficult times, the goal of NextStep 365 is to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organization. 

Manhattan Beach Pier to Washington D.C.

In support of NextStep, on March 10, 2019 Janne left the Manhattan Beach pier and rode his power wheelchair and adventure cycle from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to raise awareness and funds to support NextStep the 6 million individuals and wounded service members living with paralysis in the U.S. Janne was joined by other participants who rode bikes alongside him across the country including Manhattan Beach local Anderson Bell who rode his bike the entire way to DC. This dedicated team inspired those at the rehabilitation centers, universities, and the communities they visited. They provided quality-of-life grants, donated medical equipment, and hosted charity events. The adventure tested the team’s spirit from beginning to end. The LA to DC journey was a true test of endurance, strength and camaraderie but, the team had a lot of fun along the way. The team experienced this amazing country from such a unique perspective, they met so many amazing people along the way, and they raised close to a half-a-million dollars. It was the adventure of a lifetime! NextStep's LA to DC Ride for Paralysis was honored to have an award winning documentary film crew, directed by Nic Good, capturing the trials and triumphs of Janne’s journey across America. Click Here to watch the trailer and stay tuned for the official release of the feature length documentary film on a streaming service.  

Given the successful of the cross country ride, Janne, his team at NextStep, and his friends, who wanted to take on a personal challenge, decided they had to go on more rides. This past Oct they rode from Paso Robles to Manhattan Beach and raised $150,000. Click below to watch the video.  

San Diego to Manhattan Beach Pier

Just this past weekend, the team rode from San Diego to Manhattan Beach over the course of three (3) days. On the ride were many locals including Janne’s wife, Susan Moffat, who completed her second ride after never have been on a road bike before. Local real-estate agent and NextStep supporter, Lauren Forbes joined as well and was awarded the infamous neon green socks and named “Hero of the Day” on Day 2 for her relentless effort and determination.  

“Riding for NextStep this past weekend was one of the most impactful things I’ve ever done. Not only was I able to raise a lot of money for an incredible cause that I really believe in, but I was also able to face some fears and make some new friends!” Said Lauren. 

Brian Carroll also joined the ride and he and his wife, Maya, raised over $50,000!. Brian’s wife, Maya, is a client at NextStep after being shot walking her dog in Inglewood  in 2018. She was 39 at the time of the attack, which forever changed the trajectory of both her life and Brian’s. The courage and positive attitude of this couple is beyond belief. Brian was named MVP for the ride after completing such a difficult ride riding a road bike for the first time in his life. 

“As a first timer the love and support from the riders is family level stuff. Our community is everything.  I can't wait to do it again!!!” Exclaimed Brian. 

Others South Bay residents that joined the ride include; Gage Stroman, Anderson Bell, Bryn Britton, Joe Szynal, Joe Madrid, Joe Rosa, Leslie Newburn, Mark Hottle, Richard Ward, Robin Danby, Armando Gil, Manny Gil, and Manuel Paliungas of the Bicycle Angels. The Bicycle Angels are a local non-profit that provides free high-end road bikes to anyone participating in a charity ride. Huge thanks to them! 

And we had some folks outside the bubble come join as well; NextStep Executive Director, Joel Wenger, NextStep Lead Trainer, Brandon Childs, “Day 1 Hero” Mike Faello, “Day 3 Hero” Taylor Huang, Sharon Venturi, Chris Del Rosso, Colin Coyne, and Derek De Bakker. 

There were gnarly crashes, daily detours, countless popped tires, one hospitalization (“he’s fine now… just a little heat stroke”), lots of laughs, many new friendships made, personal challenges accomplished, beers drank, and lots of money raised. One lesson learned, team work makes the dream work! Most of the riders were new to the sport, didn’t train a whole lot, but they still made it thanks to the support of each other. It was incredible to witness. 

If anyone is interested in joining NextStep on the road, follow them on Instagram for event updates @nextstepla or visit www.nextstepfitness.org

Beantown to Gtown

The next Ride for Paralysis “Beantown to Gtown” takes place Sept 18-29th. The team is riding from Boston to Washington, D.C. Reach out to Janne at jannek@nextstepfitness.org if you are interested in participating. 

If you would like to support NextStep 


Janne Kouri, Founder of NextStep

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