Friday, April 30, 2010

Tales of Reinvention: Janne Kouri

My father had his first stroke in October of 1985.  When most of us think stroke we think brain impairment. But our family rarely likes to do anything conventional. While my father had full use of his speech and intellect he was left unable to walk.  The doctors are not particularly encouraging when it comes to anything involving neurological issues. They use words like never, words no one wants to  hear.

At 63 my father was by far the youngest man on the spinal injury floor of Magee Rehabilitation.   Most of the other spinal injury patients were victims of tragic accidents. But they all had one thing in common. Blocking out the word never as they relearned how to  literally  put one foot in front of the other.

I spent a lot of time on that floor. I witnessed courage and fear.  I saw the joy in the eyes of these men when they made the slightest little bit of progress and the frustration when their bodies refused to cooperate with their determination.

I remember the look on my father's face when he took his first steps. A man who stood six foot one and had survived active combat in WWll was now finding  joy shuffling one foot in front of the other and   being able to stand with the help of a walker and a team of therapists behind him.

That memory caused me to burst into tears when I saw the video of Janne Kouri learning to walk again.

I learned of Janne through my friend Regena Thomashauer. Janne was a young, strong man just starting out in life  when a simple dive into the Pacific to cool off after a game of beach volleyball left him paralyzed.

He was told he would never walk again.  There are  a lot of things he could have done with that information. Janne chose to block out the never part and instead reinvent his life from where he now found himself. His experience showed him that there was a need for affordable, community based state of the art fitness facilities for people like him, the physically challenged. He and his wife Susan took a tragic accident and turned it into  a non profit organization called Next Step Fitness .

It has been twenty five years since my father's spinal injury. They are still telling the people this happens to never. I am not a fan of the word never. I believe it holds us back from what is indeed possible. My father did learn to walk again, but for him his heart was not as strong as his will.  Had it been he would have loved to have had a place like Next Step Fitness to go to.

So many of the spinal injuries happen to young people who still want a healthy and active lifestyle.  Next Step Fitness can help them. I invite you to support them with a donation or perhaps a ticket to their fundraiser on May 20 in NYC.  You can go to to find out how.

Sometimes we choose to reinvent our lives, other times something happens that forces us to do so.   In either case, there is no place for words like never.