In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 25, 2019

Chris Norton Keeps on Turning Pain Into Purpose

By In the Loop

Five years after a spinal cord injury, Chris Norton continues to inspire others, most recently by launching a camp for kids in wheelchairs and their families.


When Chris Norton was a freshman at Luther College, an accident on the football field left him with a spinal cord injury and a crushing prognosis. Doctors at Mayo Clinic told Chris he had less than a 3 percent chance of regaining movement below his neck. "I was devastated," he tells KAAL-TV. "I thought there was nothing I could do that would bring joy and happiness to my life."

If you, like us, have followed Chris' story, you know that's not how it ends. Five years after his accident, Chris graduated from college and walked across the stage to accept his diploma. Last year, he completed another inspiring walk — this one down the aisle and into his new life as a husband. Chris no longer sees that moment on the football field as anything less than destiny. "Life had a better plan for me than the plan I had for myself," Chris says. "If I could go back and change that play I wouldn't do it. It gave my pain a purpose."

That purpose was on display recently at the first annual Chris Norton Foundation Wheelchair Camp, which took place at Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch in southern Minnesota. Twenty-five campers and their families came together for traditional camp activities, some of them adapted to meet the needs of kids in wheelchairs. "I really like it," camper Trenton Bass tells Fox 47. "There's a lot of people in your same situation. It's nice to get out and kind of enjoy sports and all kinds of activities with them."

Chris, whose foundation sponsored the campers and their families, says he was inspired to launch the camp after attending a similar camp at Ironwood Springs. "I just saw all the life changing moments with the campers, with the families, and just felt like this could be a great opportunity for more people to gain access to," he tells Fox 47.

Chris has had some life-changing moments of his own the past year. He and his wife, Emily, celebrated their first wedding anniversary and adopted five girls — including four sisters — who they had cared for as foster parents. Chris continued his work as a motivational speaker, and the couple somehow found time to write a book, The Seven Longest Yards: Our Love Story of Pushing the Limits while Leaning on Each Other. It "tells the unforgettable love story" of how Chris and Emily "battled unbelievable odds with faithful determination to discover that life's lowest moments can be our greatest gifts."

If that sounds like a story you'd like to read, the book — featuring a foreword by Tim Tebow — will be released July 9. You can watch Chris and Emily talk about it that day on Good Morning America. (We'll be tuning in.)

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Tags: Chris Norton, Community, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Mayo Clinic Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program, Patient Stories

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