The freshman year of college brings about a lot of new experiences. For many students, it’s their first time living away from their parents. It can also mark the first time they meet people from different cultures, join a greek organization, or write a 20-page essay.
These events can shape a person’s future forever. That was certainly the case for Chris Norton, who had his whole world rocked at a football game during his freshman year.
In 2010, Chris Norton suffered a spinal cord injury at a college football game.
It was a true honor to be able to speak to @uiupeacocks last night! Every year the athletic department organizes a service event plus invests in a speaker to equip the student-athletes with life skills & motivation to start the year. I was so fortunate to be able to be apart of this year's kick off, and truly felt welcomed within their family. I could tell my inspirational message was well received. The Peacocks gained a new fan! My friend Tyler Rinken captured some great photos from last nights event. #motivationalspeaker #speakers #chris #norton #scican #iowa #peacocks #upperiowauniversity #florida #athletics #attitude #effort #purpose
The year was 2010. Then 18-year-old Norton was just 6 weeks into his freshman year at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, competing in a football game against Central College.
Everything was going smoothly until the 3rd quarter—when Norton mistimed a play. He lay on the ground, unable to get up. He told People, it felt like “someone had turned off my body.”
He was soon airlifted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was told he had fractured his C3-C4 vertebrae. The doctors told him there would be a 3 percent chance he’d be able to ever use his legs again. Norton took that as a personal challenge.
“I was going to be part of that three percent,” he said.
Following his injury, Norton was worried he’d never meet his romantic partner. Then he met Emily Summers.
Norton spent about a year in rehabilitation before returning to classes in 2011. He had healed significantly but was still wheelchair-bound.
When he returned, he wasn’t just concerned about physical limitations but dating options as well. He worried that nobody would want to spend time with someone in his condition.
“I wanted to be a dad and have a wife,” Norton said. “But I didn’t want to burden somebody with everything I needed.”
Over the next few years, he went on a few dates with different women but the spark just wasn’t there. Then in 2013, he met a girl named Emily Summers through an online dating site, and the two hit it off instantly.
“I was waiting for that girl who made me feel alive and someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” Norton said, “and then here comes Emily. I knew she was on the one.”
“I was extremely drawn to him and his story,” Summers told People, “and how he wasn’t just going to give up. That’s how we first connected.”
Norton told Summers how he wanted to cross the stage at his 2015 graduation. The pair worked hard to make it happen.
It didn’t take long for Norton and Summers to really open up to each other. Early on, Norton told Summers about how he wanted to be strong enough to cross the stage at his 2015 graduation, and she helped make that happen.
Summers researched and found out about a facility in Michigan that trains injured athletes. Norton looked into it and spent plenty of time there building his strength.
“It was incredible to see how motivated he was,” Summers said. “When he sets his mind to something, he does it. That’s why I fell in love with him.”
The night before the walk, Norton proved his readiness, not only to walk across the stage but to spend his life with someone. He proposed to Summers and they walked across the stage together as 3,000 people cheered on.
“The walk wouldn’t have been possible without Emily, literally and figuratively,” Norton said.
After a successful walk for graduation, Norton and Summers’ next goal was to walk down the aisle at their wedding.
With one walking-based goal met, it was time to take on another: walking down the aisle at their wedding. They had their hands full, not only preparing for that, but also raising five young foster kids, something Emily’s always wanted to do.
“What I love about Emily is that she has the biggest heart in the world,” said Norton. “She has so much compassion and empathy.”
On April 21, 2018, the couple was finally able to tie the knot at the Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida. Nearly 200 guests gathered for this momentous occasion, witnessing Norton’s 7-yard walk down the aisle with his wife.
“The accident brought me to her,” said Norton, “and that is the biggest blessing.”
The newlyweds hope that their marriage will inspire people not to give up and keep chasing their dreams.
“There have been a lot of moments where we’ve struggled. But anything is possible if we don’t give up,” Norton said. “We want to be an example that life can be remarkable.”