The founder of one of the country’s largest and most innovative functional rehabilitation networks for spinal cord injury is a C6 quad, a power chair user and, maybe, a little crazy, given he’s currently spending eight to 10 hours a day hugging the shoulders of America’s highways. Janne Kouri, the founder of NextStep, is in the middle of a 2,900 mile, cross-country “Ride for Paralysis” to raise awareness and money for fitness and quality of life grants for individuals with SCI.
“It’s such an adrenaline rush, being on the road every day and being able to do it with so many close friends, it’s been amazing” says Kouri, whose ride started on March 10 in Manhattan Beach, California, and is scheduled to finish May 15 in Washington, D.C. “Seeing the United States from such a unique perspective is incredible, and the best part about it is all the different people we’re meeting along the way. It’s so inspiring and really wonderful.”
Kouri founded NextStep in 2008 with the goal of improving access to secondary rehabilitation and fitness for people living with paralysis. There are currently seven NextStep paralysis recovery centers around the United States.
Kouri averages about 60 miles a day between his Permobil F5 wheelchair and a Bowhead Reach electric trike. His team includes support riders and a van, and makes stops in cities along the route to visit rehab centers, universities, United Spinal Association chapters and others connected with the paralysis community. Along the way, the Ride for Paralysis team also awards individuals with quality of life grants so they can afford memberships to NextStep rehab centers. It has currently raised almost $300,000 of its $500,000 goal.
The team also donates medical equipment and hosts local events, often partnering with United Spinal Association and its VetsFirst division to help build support and awareness in the communities it visits. “The whole point of this trip has been to raise awareness about the lack of resources that people living with paralysis have across the country. The vast majority of communities and cities we’re going through don’t have anything like a NextStep,” he says. “United Spinal has been amazing in getting the word out and helping us to, hopefully in the future, bring services to those communities.”
Between the eight to 10 hours a day of riding, along with events and meeting individuals along the route, Kouri’s schedule is packed, but he says his body is holding up better than he expected. “I really thought I’d be completely wiped out and hurting more than I am,” he says. “But I’m actually feeling amazing.”
As the Ride for Paralysis team hits the home stretch, many who’ve been involved with the journey hope to keep the momentum rolling after the finish in Washington, D.C. A NextStep trainer started a challenge when he donned a pink tutu and completed 2,900 sit-ups to match the number of miles that Janne is riding. Now, whether doing reps of their favorite exercise or getting creative and handing out 2,900 compliments to strangers, people are using the #2900challenge as a means to continue raising awareness. “We’re all committed to bringing awareness to the needs of people living with paralysis,” says Danielle Corraza, the vice president of VetsFirst. “If Janne’s big goal is to ride 2,900 miles, what’s yours?”
To follow the rest of Janne’s ride and find information on how to donate, check out the Ride for Paralysis website.