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The student news site of ADM High School

Black & (Red)gister

The student news site of ADM High School

Black & (Red)gister

Chris Norton’s 7 Yards

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Photo by Addi Herrick

Chris Norton was an average eighteen-year-old playing football at Lutheran College in Decorah IA when his life was changed forever.

Chris Norton grew up in Bondurant, Iowa with two loving parents and two sisters. He graduated from Bondurant-Farrar High School in 2010, to go on to bigger and better things at Luther College by playing football and studying business management. During his freshman year, his whole career stopped during an intense game against Central College. It was only his sixth game of the season. He was tackled during kick-off head-on with another player and became paralyzed, suffering a spinal cord injury and losing all feeling and movement from the neck down. This injury left him wheelchair-bound with broken vertebrae of a C3 and C4, and a 3% chance of ever being able to move anything below the neck. Norton says in that moment it felt like “someone had flipped the power off to my body. All I wanted to do was stand up and shake it off.”

“Our greatest strength isn’t physical, it’s mental.”

He was then airlifted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to help with his recovery. Norton went through several years of physical therapy at the Mayo Clinic. After years of hard work, he is now able to move his body on his own in a power-assisted wheelchair and overcame the 3% prognosis. Norton had the inspirational words of his father engraved in his brain to help keep him going.

“If you don’t like where you are do something about it.”

After fighting against these odds in 2015, Norton wanted to walk the stage of his college graduation, and that’s exactly what he did. He walked for the first time, four yards, across the stage to receive his diploma. After the video of him walking across went worldwide, he became an inspiration to many and started his motivational speaking career while sharing his story and inspiring many. Norton then stretched for an even further goal of seven yards to walk his bride, Emily Summers, down the aisle on their wedding day on April 18th, 2018. This caused many documentaries about his inspirational story to be produced. Amazon Prime, Netflix and Apple TV have come out with several documentaries. His most well-known is 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story. In a news article about his journey, Norton says, “The movie was named 7 Yards. It wasn’t 5 yards, it wasn’t 6 yards, right? It would have been awkward if I didn’t walk 7 yards for the film.” He also has a book called The Seven Longest Yard where he talks about his extraordinary journey and his life after his accident.

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College life was nothing easy. His roommates were still his football teammates so they helped him get to class, change clothes, put deodorant on and many other tasks. His older sister Alex also moved closer to help him live in a dorm; he had lots of support from everyone. He and his roommates came to the conclusion they were like “five single dads all taking care of him,” and supported him every second. In Norton’s words, he will always have a brotherhood with them.

Norton now lives in South Florida and is a full-time motivational speaker. He has adopted five kids ranging from the age of 5-14 years old with his wife Emily, as well as starting the Chris Norton Foundation. The Chris Norton Foundation was created to help raise money to buy equipment for hospitals and rehabilitation centers. They have raised more than $1 million since 2012.

 

I was able to sit down with Norton and ask him a couple of questions.

Why did you decide to be a motivational speaker?

I was in a public speaking class, and I started to tell my story. People kind of leaned in. They wanted to know more about it and you could see the wheels turning for people and their perspective being shifted, so then I got asked by a group to speak. Again, people were leaning in with tears and laughs. I could see that I could use all the pain and everything I had gone through for a purpose pronounced bigger than me to help people. It was just fulfilling and that’s when I knew I wanted to continue on this path.

What do you hope people take from your message?

That it is important to keep going no matter what and we all are going to get hit and knocked down with challenges. Those moments are easy to give into excuses and kind of play the victim, but we have a greater strength inside that we can overcome hard obstacles. I hope people can find that strength inside. I don’t want a life-altering moment to help people unlock that when it’s all there. Just try to tap into that and help people find that strength and keep going, even if they don’t know it. It’s important to wake up each day and to keep trying.

How did you feel at the moment of the accident?

Well as an eighteen-year-old, I kind of thought I was invincible and I didn’t think anything bad could happen to me. Bad things happen to other people, and it’ll be fine, so I was pretty calm and just telling myself you’ll be fine. It’s just a little scare and things will come back. But once it got to that moment when the ambulance and everything was in place, that’s when I kinda knew something bad was happening. I closed my eyes, prayed and just kinda hoped for the best. I was in shock. I just could not believe this was happening to me, because of that 3%, I just didn’t want to be there and be in these positions. I tried to do whatever I could to get better.

When did the switch flip on for you that you wanted to fight for your life?

Thankfully with my upbringing, I have always kind of been taught, “If you do not like where you are do something about it.” I just had to have that mentality to not accept things as they are and get better. I just have this belief in myself and confidence that I will get better and I’m going to figure it out. So I think right away, I knew I was going to fight but every night was a battle too. The lights go out and you’re left there in your thoughts and that’s when all the fears and doubts came creeping in, so I had to really fight that. It’s just a matter of making that choice of not giving in to those fears and these doubts.

Do you have any resentment about anything that happened during the incident? 

I’m really grateful to have zero resentment. I have no hard feelings for the player, for the game of football, or for myself. It was a freak accident and I really treasure and value my experience playing football, all of the life lessons and great friendships that I wouldn’t take back. I wouldn’t go back and change the play either, so I guess I don’t have any ill will towards anything. I had great support and care from the football community, and from the athletic trainers on the field. Everybody did their job, and I’m just thankful for that.

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