Longwood gym offers hope, happiness to those living with paralysis

NextStep Orlando provides fitness for paralyzed patients

By Paul Giorgio - Producer

LONGWOOD, Fla. - NextStep Orlando founder Liza Riedel is this week's Getting Results Award winner.

NextStep Orlando is a health and wellness facility designed specifically for people living with paralysis. 

Riedel's story and motivation began in 2007, when she got the call no parent is ever prepared to receive. 

"The medic said, 'No, ma'am. I don't think you understand how severe this is. She's being airlifted.' And I didn't understand," Riedel said while recounting the night her then-18-year-old daughter Amanda was involved in a car crash. "Then you go to the hospital and you see your child in a rotating bed in the ICU."

Riedel said the year that followed included some of the most difficult times of her life. The reality that there were few options for continued care only added to that frustration.

"This horrible reality is similarly faced by over 11,000 families each year," Riedel said. "There are very few options for recovery, especially in Florida. A person living with a spinal cord injury is overwhelmed. They need recovery, hope, encouragement and a reason to wake up every day." 

Riedel found inspiration after taking her daughter to California for therapy.

"They took her and they put her on machine after machine after machine, and I saw the life come back to my daughter's smile. I just saw the life come back, and I was like, 'Finally, somebody gets it,'" she said. 

In 2009, she established NextStep Orlando, a nonprofit organization and paralysis recovery center in Longwood.

It looks much like other gyms and fitness centers in the area, but along with dumbbells and stationary bikes, NextStep Orlando has specialized equipment and trainers to assist clients with neurological and mobility impairments.

"It's not always about walking," Riedel said. "Our goal is to have them feel better so that they go back to school, go back to work, start driving again. That's what's going on here."

Today, Amanda works out two or three times a week and lives independently.

Riedel said one of the main goals of the organization is to get people active and alleviate secondary conditions that happen with a sedentary lifestyle. 

Clients like Bernadine Jore call the gym their happy place. Jore became injured after being thrown off a horse. She trains twice a week. 

"This is epic. It made a huge difference," Jore said. "I can't imagine going through a spinal cord injury and wanting so much more and not having the resources that will give it to you."

Riedel was nominated by Alexys Crutchfield.

"She started this from the bottom--being a mother that wanted to not give up on her daughter and not lose hope for a lot of people that don't know where to turn," Crutchfield said.  

Riedel said she's proud of the difference NextStep Orlando has made.

"When I started this, there were absolutely no activity-based therapy programs in the whole Southeast," Riedel said. "I was a frustrated mother. So, I guess in that regard, you could say I am proud. I'm like, 'Yeah, we did it.'"

More information about NextStep Orlando and its fundraising efforts is included in the highlighted links. 

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