March 17, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In 1996, as a senior, former Georgetown University football standout Janne Kouri (B'97) set a school record by registering 16 quarterback sacks in one season. It is a school record that stands to this day.
Kouri, a defensive lineman, finished his Hoya career as the all-time leader in sacks with 31.5 between 1993-96. That record still stands at Georgetown as well, although it was tested in recent years by Michael Ononibaku (28, 2002-05) and Alex Buzbee (27.5, 2003-06). During those days, the Georgetown football team played in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and Kouri led a defensive unit that was among the best in the nation. He was named to the All-MAAC football team in 1995 and 1996 and was the league's Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Soon after graduation, however, Kouri was doing one of the things he loved doing - playing beach volleyball - when his life changed. He wanted to cool off, so he went running to the water. Instead of just hitting water and diving through a wave, Kouri hit a sand bar. He fractured his C5 & C6 vertebrae. In an instant, he was paralyzed from the neck down.
Kouri spent two months in an intensive care unit in California and then Janne and his wife, Susan, traveled to Louisville, Ky. to participate in a cutting-edge rehabilitation therapy for individuals with Spinal Cord injury called "Locomotor Training". For 12 months, Kouri and his wife lived in Louisville, and under the watchful eye of his therapy team, saw improvements in his muscle strength, movement and general health.
It was during this time that Kouri wanted to make sure that he could continue his athletic lifestyle and his Locomotor Training when he moved back home to California. After extensive research, he found that there were not many options for people in his situation. The availability of affordable, state-of-the-art, community based fitness services for the disabled was completely inadequate, not only in Los Angeles, but also nationwide. Therefore, Kouri decided to make sure that there were options, not only for him, but also for others.
So, with the help of his family, and the guiding influence of Dr. Susie Harkema - one of the neuroscientists who created Locomotor Training & enhanced Activity Based Therapy techniques and Janne's lead advisor in Kentucky, Janne and his wife decided to start NextStep Fitness, a Los Angeles-area facility dedicated to the fitness needs of the disabled. The center features Locomotor Training, an innovative-harnessed treadmill that works to retrain patients on the physiological effort of walking.
"Prior to starting my locomotor training, I spent two months in ICU, dealing with pneumonia and other health issues related to my accident, my condition was very unstable," Kouri said. "I also had no movement in my legs. Being the first in-patient to ever participate in a locomotor program, I was obviously slightly anxious and nervous. But before I knew it, my toes started to wiggle and with each week I experienced more and more movement in my legs. Within a month I was able to step for an hour at a time with the assistance of my trainers.
"My health dramatically improved; my blood pressure, my overall strength and muscle tone, my cardio endurance, as well as my mental strength. Simply put, it felt great to stand up and walk again. Locomotor made me feel healthier, happier, and overall gave me a very positive outlook on my progress and my life. Not only do I believe that locomotor will help me in achieving my goal of walking again but it will continue to improve my overall well being."
NextStep, a CA Non-Profit, is a state-of-the-art outpatient fitness center that brings the most cutting edge training methods, procedures, and technologies to rehabilitation for spinal injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and traumatic brain injury victims in the greater Los Angeles County. NextStep Fitness was born through a partnership with the Neurorecovery Network and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and continues in operation today as the only community-based fitness facility specifically designed to enhance the recovery and wellness, and function, of individuals such as Kouri in a cost effective manner and it is the only Locomotor Training Center (only seven other centers exist nationwide, all in hospitals) west of Houston. Through its specialized facility and unique expertise, NextStep strives to improve levels of independence and quality of life through personalized fitness and wellness programs.
"It grew even faster than we ever expected, without any marketing whatsoever," Kouri said over the phone. "We're at capacity now with the Locomotor Training, with a waiting list. This simply goes to show how necessary it is to the community. There's no magic pill that you can take to get you back to your old form, but in my opinion it's the best thing out there for spinal cord injury victims. There's no promise that you will walk again, but we can guarantee that it will help your health and wellness.
"Our clients come from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds; therefore we offer our services at a fraction of what it costs us to have our clients at our facility. This is the reason we rely on charitable donations to operate. With our non-profit status, we generate revenue from memberships, but ultimately operate in a loss position requiring significant contributions."
For more information on NextStep Fitness, please visit http://www.nextstepfitness.org.