BONDURANT — For Chris Norton, football was life. He starred at Bondurant-Farrar High School and went on to play for the Norse at Luther College.
He had some pretty ambitious goals that many talented college athletes have- become an All-American athlete, settle down with the woman of his dreams, finish his degree, even buy a lake house. But all of that was gone in an instant.
“But sometimes life has a better plan for you than the plan you had for yourself,” he said.
Norton proved that he had talent during the first six games of his freshman year. Until one game- when a tackle attempt turned disastrous.
“Instead of getting my head in front of the ball carrier like I was trying to do, my head collided with his legs, and in an instant, I lose all feeling and movement from my neck down,” he said.
And just like that, Norton was paralyzed.
“I just couldn’t get up out of this play, though,” said Norton. “No matter how hard I tried, it was like someone turned the power off to my body. I was just confused, and I’m thinking, like bad things shouldn’t happen to me, bad things happen to other people.”
He was airlifted to the hospital, then rushed to the Mayo Clinic for an emergency surgery to fuse his vertebrae. He prayed.
“God, please, just allow me to keep walking and use my legs. I was so scared. I was pleading, I’ll give up sports, I’ll give up my athletic career,” he said about that night in 2010. “I thought at the time that was enough of a sacrifice. And I was just like, please God, give me the ability to walk.”
Norton struggled to regain his movement. By the next fall, he was back in school. However, he was very dependent on those around him.
Someone would help him get up in the morning and ready for class. Another would get him to class and to the cafeteria to eat. There was tons of therapy sessions and doctor appointments. He said the list went on and on of all of the sacrifices his sister and friends made to make sure he was doing what he needed to do.
Then, he met the love of his life, his wife Emily. Sports became an afterthought, and she became his new teammate.
“He continued to not let his circumstances define him, and to ruin his days or his life, but instead he found something good from it, and used it as a way to help others,” Emily said.
Emily and his faith in God gave Chris that inspiration to make a difference.
Emily helped Chris walk across the stage at his college commencement. Then, the couple went viral when they made their way down the aisle. Now, they are parents to four adopted girls. They have also fostered a 20-year-old woman.
Emily reminisced on their adoption: “Seeing these kids come in, they’re alone, they’re going through the hardest thing they’ve ever gone through, being taken from their family, and being able to be that voice that comes in and just lets them know that they’re safe and they’re loved, and just to allow them to heal from those things that have happened.”
They all are able to live their life to the fullest. Chris can share his love for sports, even if it’s from a wheelchair.
“Sports taught me so many great lessons,” he said. “It taught me how to fail, how to work hard, how to push through even when it was hard, and that’s something that I want my kids to have.”
He’s truly become an inspiration for others. Chris travels across the country giving motivational speeches. He teaches at a wheelchair camp. Back at the house he grew up in, he’s seeing signs of a greater independence.
He’s able to take a drink of water on his own, and he’ll never take that for granted again. All of the lessons he and Emily have learned can be passed onto others in their first book, The Seven Longest Yards.
“I think it gives all of us that hope that no matter what we’re going through, no matter what we’re dealing with, or the circumstances around you, you can still love your life and be grateful for what you have,” said Emily.
Though life may not be the way he imagined it a decade ago, he is proving that if can be better than what you can ever imagine.
“I’m so content with where I’m at, and how things are going and how I’m being used to bring inspiration to others. I’m bringing hope to the hopeless, and that’s just a special opportunity that I can live out.”
Their book goes on sale July 9. The couple will also be on Good Morning America to help promote it.