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October 17th, 2017

First Down, Now 7 Yards to Go

By In the Loop

When he was just 18, a football play gone wrong left Chris Norton with a spinal cord injury and a grim prognosis. In the seven years since, Chris has worked tirelessly to overcome that prognosis – and discovered a calling along the way.

At 18, a football play left Chris Norton with a spinal cord injury and a grim prognosis. In the years since, he’s worked tirelessly to overcome that prognosis – and discovered a calling along the way.


Chris Norton lay face down on the Luther College football field, motionless. It was a position he'd been in before, on another beautiful fall day nearly seven years earlier. Back then, he'd just taken a hit that would leave him with a spinal cord injury and a less than 3 percent chance of regaining feeling below his neck. It was an accident that would shape the rest of his life and, he says, give him "a purpose worth living for."

This time, lying on that field was no accident. Instead, it was the result of meticulous planning and the efforts of hundreds of people, all of whom had come together to help recreate the moment that changed Chris' life. The scene will be part of a documentary, "7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story," that will highlight Chris' journey, including his treatment and rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic and his inspiring walk across the stage at his college graduation in 2015.

When he was just 18, a football play gone wrong left Chris Norton with a spinal cord injury and a grim prognosis. In the seven years since, Chris has worked tirelessly to overcome that prognosis – and discovered a calling along the way.The final scenes of the documentary will be filmed in April 2018, when Chris will take another walk. This time, he plans to escort his bride, Emily Summers, down the aisle after they say their 'I dos.' The film's title is a nod to the seven yards he'll walk on their wedding day. For that, Chris is going far beyond the usual wedding preparations. "I've been training five times a week, three hours a day to be able to walk side by side with Emily down the aisle," Chris tells us.

That training is far from all that keeps Chris busy these days. He and his father, Terry Norton, wrote a book, The Power of Faith When Tragedy Strikes. He's actively involved with the SCI CAN Foundation — a charity that Chris, his family and friends founded in 2012 — which has raised more than $600,000 to help people with spinal cord injuries. And Chris and Emily have become foster parents, opening their home and hearts to children in need of both. In the process, they've helped a teenager become the first in her family to graduate high school, taught the ABCs to a preschooler, and witnessed a baby's first laugh. "We want to love on kids who need love and give them what we got as kids," Chris tells us.

Chris also travels the country as a motivational speaker, sharing the lessons he's learned about perseverance, attitude and the impact one life can have on another. It's not a job he could have imagined before his injury. But now it's one he treasures. "I always believed God had a bigger and better plan for me than the one I imagined for myself," Chris recently told USA Today. "I always say what determines your success is not your circumstances but how you respond to them."

You can learn more about "7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story" on the film's website, which includes information on how you can support the film and have your name listed in the credits. You can also follow Chris on Facebook, where he recently posted seven things he's learned in the seven years since his injury. Then inspire us with your comments below before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.


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Tags: Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Mayo Clinic Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, Neurology, Patient Stories

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