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NRN

NRN Patient Will Not Be Defeated

Jon

Jon "Zak" Zakarin is part of the NeuroRecovery Network at Kessler Rehab in NJ.

By: Janelle LoBello

Name: Jon "Zak" Zakarin
Injury: C7 Asia D
Mechanism of Injury: Body surfing
Date of Injury: August 13, 2006

On August 13, 2006, Jon "Zak" Zakarin, age 46, was body surfing at Robert Moses Beach in Long Island, NY when suddenly the tide changed, and so did his life.

"I was body surfing, wave diving and swimming all day, things I've done my entire life," recalls Zak. "We must have shifted our location a little bit unintentionally, and when I went in, I hit a sandbar that was not where I was all day."

Classified from doctors as living with a C7 level spinal cord injury, Zak is part of the Reeve Foundation’s NeuroRecovery Network at Kessler Rehabilitation Institute in West Orange, NJ.

The NeuroRecovery Network (NRN) is a cooperative network of cutting-edge rehabilitation centers designed to provide and develop therapies to promote functional recovery and improve the health and quality of life of people with paralysis.

Zak, pictured with his girlfriend Susan, sets high expectations for himself.

Zak, pictured with his girlfriend Susan, sets high expectations for himself.

Expectations and intensity
Even before he began the NRN program, Zak still took steps to prepare himself for the intense therapy that lay ahead.

"When I knew that I was on the top of the NRN waiting list, I took to a completely different way of eating," explains Zak. "From the end of the summer [2011] until now, I've lost about 25 pounds. I probably lost 10-12 pounds since the starting at the NRN."

Part of this success came from Zak's personal determination to work out on his own. "My gym is incredibly accessible," says Zak of his workout regimen before the NRN. "I can get on and off machines by self; do upper body stuff, leg presses, crunches, swim and walk in the water with my walker."

Entering the NRN with some walking abilities in the Fall of 2011, Zak believes he is still getting other benefits from the NRN. Driving four hours and almost 130 miles each day to and from the NRN in New Jersey and his home in Melville, NY, Zak is incredibly determined to get the most out of his therapy.

"It all depends on the expectations somebody sets for themselves," says Zak. "I look at it NRN therapy as a very intense workout. My cardiovascular and endurance has improved and my general health is better as a result of the activity."

Zak's brother and good friend ran the 2011 ING New York City Marathon in his honor.

Zak's brother and good friend ran the 2011 ING New York City Marathon in his honor.

You only live once
Moving forward, Zak has been encouraged to participate in the 2012 ING New York City marathon for Team Reeve. His brother, Harris Zakarin, and close friend of more than 25 years, Paige Sirota, ran for Team Reeve in 2011, raising close to $20,000. (Paige also ran in 2009.) Fellow Kessler NRN patient, and two-time ING New York City Marathon Team Reeve handcyclist, John Benedetto is another influence. "John has motivated me to consider doing the marathon this coming year," says Zak. "It's my plan once I'm done with the NRN to start training."

A family man - father to Erik, age 17, Parris, age 16, and Carly, age 13 - Zak is dedicated to having a large presence in his children's lives. Prior to his injury, Zak traveled often as the Vice President of Sales at a technology company. "It wasn't really feasible to continue traveling," explains Zak, now retired.

Spending time with his children, Parris, Carly, and Erik, Zak lives his life to the fullest.

Spending time with his children, Parris, Carly, and Erik, Zak lives his life to the fullest.

"There's silver lining though, because if I was still traveling like I was, I would never get to spend the amount of time I do with my children."

Of continuing to move forward in his life, Zak proves to be active. He is a frequent concert-goer to Rock and Roll and jazz performances and also coaches his kids' basketball and soccer teams. Zak and Erik are also season ticket holders to the New York Knicks.

"My son told me to use the expression from the rapper, Drake, YOLO – you only live once," laughs Zak. "One-hundred-percent, you have to live your life, you only get one chance."

Learn more
Learn all about how the Reeve Foundation's NeuroRecovery Network is developing and expanding access to activity-based therapies, resulting in improved health, quality of life, and function.

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders