Chris Norton from Des Moines, Iowa was just your average sports-loving kid growing. He played them all and he loved them all. But his best and favorite sport was easily football. He shined as a starter for three years on his high school’s team and his hard work paid off in the form of a full ride to Luther College. Chris’ dreams were coming true and he couldn’t wait for what the future held. But his entire world was about to be flipped upside down.
Chris saw playing time early at Luther, and during their game on October 10th, 2010, Chris went for a big hit on a kickoff. But, as Chris said later, “I mistimed my jump, just by a split second.” And when he tried to push himself back up off the ground, he couldn’t. His arms and legs weren’t working. He was left motionless on the ground. His teammates, coaches, family and everyone watching the game that day looking on in fear. Worried that the unthinkable had happened.
Chris was quickly taken to the hospital. Doctors took X-rays and administered a series of tests. Chris and his family were so scared. They didn’t know what was wrong with Chris. Then, the doctor’s delivered the terrible news. Chris had broken his C3 and C4 vertebrae. It’s quite possibly the worst spinal chord injury he could have suffered. Chris was told that there was only a 3% chance that he would ever move anything below his neck again, and his football career was over. Chris and his family were devastated.
But before his family could even process the awful news, Chris had a thought. “I’m going to prove these doctors wrong.” And he set out to do just that. He went to work with physical therapists, trying to re-teach his broken body to work again. Four hours a day, sometimes even more. “If I wasn’t sleeping, I was working,” Chris said. It’s a work ethic he learned while playing football. And after a few brutal months of excruciating efforts, Chris got a sign. He wiggled his left toe. It was all the motivation he needed to keep going.
Meanwhile, Chris wasn’t going to let this terrible accident stop him from living his life. He returned to college and his friends. But he was worried he may never find a woman that would love him. But his friends were having none of that. They encouraged him to try online dating. That’s how he met Emily. She didn’t care about his limitations or his wheelchair. She saw the real Chris and they quickly fell in love.
Now, with the love of his life by his side, Chris continued to work towards his goal of proving the doctors wrong. And sure enough, by the time Chris was set to receive his diploma from Luther College, Chris had regained some mobility. And when his name was called, with the help of Emily herself, he walked across that stage to accept his diploma. It was truly a beautiful moment that no one there will ever forget.
And Chris wasn’t done there. There was another moment coming up that Chris was determined to walk during. His and Emily’s wedding. Chris set a specific goal: to walk 7 yards down the aisle. The ceremony was a beautiful one full of family, friends, and love. And once it was done, Emily helped her new husband out of his wheelchair and, under her arm, he walked those 7 yards. Chris had done was previously considered nearly impossible.
Chris and Emily have gone on to start the Chris Norton Foundation, which helps raise money to support other people that have suffered debilitating spinal injuries. They also have fostered an incredible five children. All while inspiring thousands every day.
It’s incredible stories like Chris and Emily’s that go to show there’s nothing you can’t achieve when you truly put your mind to it. We should all be so lucky to have the determination Chris has and the love of someone like Emily to help us along the way. Congratulations to both of them and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from them soon!