Making his way up and down Iowa sidelines, racking up yards, tackles, and the occasional touchdown in high school and college, current Wellington resident Chris Norton thought he had it all.
“When I was eighteen years old I had these big plans to be an All-American football player, get a business degree, and meet the girl of my dreams,”he said.
During a routine kick return one particular game, Norton's life and dreams changed in seconds.
“I collide with him at full force with full speed,” Norton recalled, “but I mistimed my tackle just by a split second and instead of getting my head in front of the ball carrier my head collides with his legs and in an instant I lose all feeling and movement from my neck down like someone just turned the power off to my body.”
He was airlifted to a nearby hospital with a C3 C4 fracture and a grade 4 dislocation.
“I’ll never forget being told that I had a three percent chance to ever regain any feeling or movement back below the neck,” said Norton.
That's when he said he chose faith over fear and threw himself into his recovery, committed to beating the odds.
Admittedly, Norton says it wasn't always easy.
“I would just cry myself to sleep,” he said, “and I couldn’t even wipe the tears away from my eyes.”
When things got hard he had his wife, friends, and other family, like his brother-in-law Brooks Wagner, to help him on the way. Wagner said he’s constantly learning from Norton.
“Everything is about perspective,” said Wagner. “Everything is about taking the cards you were dealt and make the best of it and just living life to the fullest not making excuses.”
Four and half years of physical therapy training and rehab after Norton’s accident culminated in a moment that went viral - a walk across the stage for his college graduation assisted by his then fiancé Emily, who he proposed to the day before.
Norton recalled, “After I got going across that stage the room erupted it was crazy how response was from everybody and tears from so many people and to see the video go viral was a blessing because it just reinforced that purpose in my life.”
That purpose is now showcased in a film currently featured on Netflix called “Seven Yards.” That’s the distance Norton was able to walk with his now wife Emily down the aisle on their wedding day. Looking back on it Norton says he wouldn’t change anything about that day on the football field ten years ago.
His worst day eventually led him to his happiest.
“Life’s lowest moments,” said Norton, “can be the source of our greatest gifts. We just have to keep on going even if you have no idea where you’re going or why.”
Wherever it is, he’ll be inspiring across the stage, down the aisle, and on your home screen.