On August 5, 2006, Janne Kouri dove into the ocean off California and crashed his head into a hidden sandbar. He knew immediately his life would never be the same.
"Instantly I could tell I was paralyzed," said Kouri, then 31, of Hermosa Beach, Calif. "I was just floating in the water and I got flipped over on my back and there were waves crashing over me so I knew something bad had happened, because I could not move my body at all so I just took a deep breath and basically hoped for the best. I thought, 'this could be it.'"
Thanks to a passing off-duty EMT, it was not the end of Kouri's life, but it was the end of his ability to walk -- or so the medical experts told his then-girlfriend Susan Moffat.
Kouri, a director of an online social network who had been a star defensive tackle on the Georgetown University football field with NFL prospects, was called "the general" by his friends because of his take-charge attitude.
With that determination and the help of radical new treatment, Kouri eventually retaught his spine to function properly and learned to walk again, with the help of a walker.
Not satisfied with overcoming his own obstacles, Kouri and Moffat set up a clinic to help other victims.
Moffat remembers clearly what the doctor told her after they rushed Kouri to the hospital that day in 2006.
"I just remember a female doctor coming out and saying to me, 'Um, just so you know, he's never going to walk again,'" Moffat, 33, said through tears. "It was devastating."
After surgery, a bout of pneumonia and two months in intensive care, Kouri's health returned, but then reality set in.
"How am I going to live my life moving forward? And all these things I had planned, am I ever going to be able to do them?" he said. "You're kind of left there wondering. Just tell yourself, 'I am going to get myself out of this situation one way or another. I am going to get myself out of this.'"
Moffat took it upon herself to do research and visit rehab centers. She eventually found Susie Harkema at the Frazier Institute in Louisville, Ky.
"She said to me, 'There's hope,'" Moffat said. "And she was the first person throughout this whole process that said that to me."
Moffat quit her job and the couple moved to Louisville to work with Harkema, who helped develop a radical new therapy known as locomotor training. The late actor Christopher Reeve was among the first test subjects for the therapy.
"The spinal cord is very sophisticated. It can process complex information. It can make decisions, remember, forget," Harkema explained.
Locomotor training reteaches the spinal cord how to control motor functions, like walking, through repetitive motion. After 15 years of experimentation, the therapy has now helped hundreds of spinal cord injury victims.
"I was thrilled to get out of that hospital," Kouri said. "Just very excited about finally getting into rehabilitation and starting to exercise and work out and starting to get myself out of this predicament that I was in."
After just three months of training, Kouri had his first milestone -- a little toe wiggle.
"I looked down at my toe and I saw it wiggling and it was an incredible, incredible moment," he said. "And I said, 'you know what? I've got a chance here.'"