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Advances in health and medicine.
Marjorie Bekaert Thomas
Advances in health and medicine.
Orthopedics Channel
Reported April 8, 2010

Wheelchair Workouts

LAWNDALE, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Every year, 11,000 people hear “you may never walk again,” and the majority of them are in the prime of their lives. One young paraplegic who's defying the odds is helping others do the same, not through a new drug or a new surgery, but through exercise.

Last year, Frank Alioto got married in Mexico. Hours later, the happiest day turned tragic.

"I dove into a pool to be with my wife, and I hit the bottom or the side we're not sure which, and I broke my neck," Alioto told Ivanhoe.

Alioto is finding help and hope in a gym, designed specifically for him.

"When I was first injured, I was told that I would have very limited arm movement and no hand movement, no leg movement," he recalled.

"Next Step" is Janne Kouri 's creation. The former college athlete and rock climber was paralyzed four years ago while swimming in the ocean. He knew exercise would keep him healthy, possibly help him move again. But there was nowhere to go.

"There's thousands of gyms for able-bodied people, so why shouldn't there be at least one facility in every community that people with spinal cord injuries have access to?" Kouri, President and Founder of NextStep Fitness in Lawndale, Calif., said.

It's one of only eight places in the country that offer locomotor training. Harnesses hold up people, while therapists move their feet and legs. Doctors say the repetitive motion could retrain the brain and spinal cord to communicate again. Studies show locomotor training has helped some patients walk on their own again.

"The capability to step remains in the spinal cord after a severe injury," Reggie Edgerton, Ph.D., neurobiologist and exercise physiologist at the UCLA Department of Physiological Science in Los Angeles, Calif., explained.

Two years of locomotor training helped Kouri take his first steps. "There's no magic pill today, and people should not just sit down and wait for that," he said.

This man's determination is only matched by the size of his heart.

Grants, donations and funding from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation help support the gym and allow Kouri to offer affordable memberships around $50 a month. Kouri is currently fundraising to open facilities across the country. 

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If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at




Janne Kouri, President/Founder
NextStep Fitness
Lawndale, CA
(310) 546-5666

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