Our Team is made of rare individuals who have chosen to make a difference by helping others. Love that. You will not find a better staff in the world, you are in great hands with our certified activity based trainers!




Thor_Karen24179 cropped (1).jpg

Karen Thor worked in banking for over 20 years, holding positions as Director of Treasury Management, Small Business, Group Banking and Credit Cards.  She completed her career in banking as CIO and Executive Vice President at National Commerce Financial, a $26B financial institution.  She also ran a successful consulting company, Revenue Enhancement Associates, teaching community banks how to establish high performing treasury management and group banking divisions.  Karen then joined Deluxe Corporation’s Treasury Management Solutions division as a national sales manager, leading a nationwide team selling complex payments software.  In 2015, Karen’s son was hit by a car and suffered a C2 break, paralyzing him from the neck down.  She and her family immediately moved to Atlanta so that Michael could rehab at the Shepherd Center, one of the top SCI rehab centers in the country.  It was there she saw the immense benefits of activity-based therapy.  After 2 ½ years, it was time to come home to the Raleigh area, but we found that the opportunity to continue aggressive activity-based therapy was very limited.  We decided to open NextStep Raleigh to allow our son to continue his recovery while giving this same opportunity to others.


DIRECTOR of training

Arlene Peters Bio Pic.jpg

As Director of NextStep, Arlene is responsible for administering, overseeing, and modifying NextStep's fitness, health, and wellness programs. She also plays an integral role in the Center’s overall Fundraising Campaign.

Arlene was born in Zimbabwe and came to USA on a tennis scholarship, playing for Cooke County Community College in Texas for 1 year, and then transferred and completed her collegiate career at NC State University. She then went on her earn her Master’s Degree in Exercise and Sports Science form UNC Chapel Hill.

Arlene has had successful careers in the fitness, health, and wellness arenas as a sports coach, hospital-based exercise physiologist, wellness coordinator, university lecturer, physical therapy aide, and has managed a private gym and a health food store. She also owns a Fitness Coaching business where education, guidance, and inspiration are the cornerstones of her fitness philosophy.

Arlene is in the process of writing her first fitness related book.

She is the proud mother of a daughter who is a rising sophomore on athletic (volleyball) and academic scholarship at college in South Carolina.

Fun Fact: Arlene wants to get back to owning and playing a saxophone.

David Wright Bio Pic (3).png



David was born and raised in a small upstate New York town called Oneonta. Growing up David excelled in both academics and athletics graduating high school with honors and winning a baseball state championship in 2012 while being named 2nd Team All State. David went on to play collegiate baseball at both Chipola Junior College in Florida where he was a Panhandle Conference All Academic selection, as well as Valdosta State University in Georgia. After his athletic career he worked in the Valdosta State University athletic department as a student assistant strength and conditioning coach while finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Physiology, graduating Cum Laude in 2018. He also spent the summer of 2017 interning with the Duke University Football Strength and Conditioning Staff. David’s passion for paralysis recovery started while interning with Next Step Atlanta. He is excited to continue in the profession of paralysis recovery and use the coaching skills he learned in strength and conditioning to build lasting relationships with his clients.

Fun Fact: David is going to start competing in the sport of Olympic Style Weightlifting as a member of the East Coast Gold Weightlifting Team.

Yolanda Ortiz

Activity based trainer

Yolanda Bio Pic.JPG

Yolanda was born in Watertown, NY, but grew up mostly in Clarksville, Tennessee. She made her way to North Carolina after attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville as a communications and journalism major. After working for a local bar entertainment company in Durham as a marketing assistant, she decided to shift gears and pursue a new career path. 

She is a graduate of the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at Durham Technical Community College. Currently she is working at a local hospital in acute care working with neuro, orthopedic and general medicine patients.

Despite never playing sports when she grew up, Yolanda spent a lot of time in the gym as a teenager taking group fitness classes with her older sister which sparked a passion for fitness at a young age. Yolanda believes in the power of movement and movement as medicine for maintaining physical and mental health along the life span. 

She teaches fitness classes, dabbles in local Spartan Races and enjoys Latin dancing. Yolanda is also a certified yoga instructor and recently completed her certification in Integrative Reflexology ® and hopes to further her education and training in adaptive fitness with special populations.