Our Story

Jon O’Connor was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, aviation enthusiast and generally one of the best people whom you could ever hope to meet.

At the age of 29, Jon established the O’Connor Foundation to provide support to Merriville Academy, an Illinois orphanage.  His success in the construction business, along with his passion for stock investing allowed him to financially support the orphanage while he also generously volunteered his time to help mentor many young boys.

Tragically, in July 2001, he became a quadriplegic when he hit his head on an underwater obstruction after diving off a boat. The blow left him with a C4 neck injury, paralyzed from the neck down, and limited use of his right arm. After months of hospitalization and physical rehabilitation in Chicago, Jon returned home motionless and frustrated that there were no other options in the area to provide him with long-term therapy. Accompanied by his father, Jon spent the next three years participating in various rehabilitation and exercise programs across the country.

Jon’s spirit, work ethic and his desire to always give to the community led him to return home to Chicago with a goal of creating a gym to share with other individuals living with paralysis. In January 2004, the O’Connor Foundation legally changed its name to NextSteps of O’Connor Foundation.

Under Jon’s guidance a gym was built to offer low-cost exercise therapy individuals with spinal cord injuries that financially otherwise would not be able to engage in cutting-edge therapies such as gait training, functional electrical stimulation and robotic-assisted exercise programs. 

As word of the gym’s existence spread through the paralysis community, Jon quickly realized that there were more than just spinal cord injured people suffering from a lack of long-term rehabilitation options. He welcomed into the facility people with all types of neurological impairments, such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and multiple sclerosis. The gym expanded its rehabilitation programs in 2008 by adding a licensed physical therapist to the facility to better serve its clientele and within two years was offering aggressive, activity-based exercise rehabilitation options for both physical therapy and neuro adaptive fitness and wellness programs.

Sadly, in July 2013, the foundation lost its leader when Jon, at the age of 42, unexpectedly succumbed to secondary effects of his paralysis. Today, the foundation continues to provide affordable, innovative rehabilitation exercise program options for all people living with any type of neurological impairment.