056: Hope After a Spinal Cord Injury With Chris Norton

June 29, 2018

FYS 56 | Spinal Cord Injury

Your life can change in an instant. Chris Norton’s changed forever in a football accident, resulting in severe spinal cord injury. Imagine being told by doctors that you would never be able to move again. Are you going to spend the rest of your life feeling sorry for yourself? Or are you going to make a stand?

When they tell you that you have a 3% chance of moving anything below your neck again, forget the 97. Focus on the 3. After his injury, Chris beat the odds and began to gain movement below his neck again. But he had a lot of help – the support of his family, friends, and fiancée, his trainers, and many more special people. And recovery comes at a high cost, both in determination and in dollars. An RT300 leg and arm bike costs $34,000 and a Bioness hand stimulator costs $15,000.

But no one should have to worry about money when they’re working towards a better life. That’s why every donation the Chris Norton Foundation receives goes to fund various levels of accommodations and neuromuscular deficiencies equipment, and facilitate opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Everyone deserves a fair shot at recovery.

Always remember that our circumstances don’t define us – we do. With inspiring words and positive action steps for changing your attitude and reality, Chris Norton’s speech is universal. Are you ready to change your life?

We’ve got Chris Norton. Chris lives the story of something that literally was my potentially worst nightmare growing up as a young athlete, a young football player. Ultimately, making it into the NFL. Chris grew up in Iowa and he played successfully in high school, then went onto a smaller college, a D-III school. He was on the kickoff team in his freshman year, he ran down the field. Unfortunately, he went head on with some other guy’s knee and that locked him up and he could not get off the ground. He was paralyzed. This story is one of triumph. This story is one that is still developing. This story is one of love and Chris is a fantastic young kid and he’s fought through all this. He met this amazing dynamo rockstar, is what she is, a woman that ultimately married him. They have done the most amazing things.

It was documented by People Magazine of when he got married, actually trying to get up out of his chair. His video has been seen over 300 million times and there was a film that was done on him called 7 Yards. This guy’s story is truly amazing. As always, please go rate and review. It’s helping us out. We continue to climb the ladder in terms of downloads. Remember at the end of the day, these pods are all about people overcoming their adversity. What I try to do is reach out and find a variety of different people. If you know anybody, please email me. You can get to me via my website, www.MarkPattisonNFL.com. I respond to everything that is sent to me, so please do so. Any comments, questions, or referrals of people you think would be a great fit for the show. You can also sign up for my newsletter, which is delivered every week. On that note, let’s talk to Chris.

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Hope After a Spinal Cord Injury With Chris Norton

I’m very grateful and privileged and honored to have this kid on. His name is Chris Norton. He hails all the way West of Palm Beach, Florida. I am broadcasting from Sun Valley, Idaho. All the way across the US. Chris, how you doing?

I’m doing great. How are you doing?

Your story was passed to me by a good friend of mine, Deb Klein. Deb, his daughter, Claude, and you apparently have worked out in the past in the same Barwick Institute. She’s got her diversity, you’ve got yours. She passed on a video and I watched it and I literally had tears coming to my eyes. It’s such an inspirational story. In addition that I’m honored to talk to you, I’m very grateful that Deb passed the story along to me.

Deb is awesome and I love Claude. They are a great people, hard workers too.

I found this quote and it goes something like this, “Stand in the face of diversity for an idea to empower the world.” Did you come up with that?

Yes. I have a great team with me that I’ve been working on how to bring my message to life and what does that symbolize. To stand up, it’s not just merely the physical ability to stand but to stand up in the face of adversity, to stand up for an idea and that we all should be taking a stand.

FYS 56 | Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury: To stand up, it’s not just merely the physical ability to stand, but you have to stand up in the face of adversity.

I’m standing not in the same fight, but we all have our own situations and it’s all about adversity and what you do with that when that card has dealt in your way. The podcast is called Finding Your Summit, all about people overcoming adversity and finding their way and certainly that has happened to you. For the audience, I just want to set the bar by saying that Chris is a guy, a fellow football player like myself, who, when he was in college, had a bad hit on a kickoff coverage team and lay motionless on the ground. He couldn’t get up and you were paralyzed. You grew in Iowa and I don’t know if high school football star is the right word, but certainly you sounded like you were involved in all the different sports and had a great childhood growing up and supportive parents and siblings.

Up until eighteen years of life, everything went according to plan and no major hiccups. I never faced severe adversity. I was involved with a lot of different sports and school activities. I had a great family and great relationships and life was pretty easy for me those first eighteen years.

Then you went off to a college called Luther College, a DIII football school. Why did you choose that college, number one, and then the second thing is how soon in your development were you playing out there? Was it your freshman year?

I chose Luther College in Northeast Iowa. I wanted to continue playing sports after high school. I love competition and I’m always competing in everything I do. I thought playing football another couple of years in college, I figured I’m not going to be able to strap on the pad after I graduate from college. I could always play basketball. I could have played college basketball, but I went the football route. My freshman year at Luther College, I worked my way up on all the special team units on the Varsity, doing kickoff coverage and return punt and punt block. I was slowly working my way up the depth chart. I was second string, strong safety. I’m starting to get some more of varsity time at the defensive position. Then it was about six weeks into the season when everything changed for me on a kickoff while I was making a tackle.

How big were you?

I was pretty undersized for my position. I was 185 pounds, about 5’11”. I wasn’t the strongest, fastest or quickest player, but something I was good at, I was good at tackling. I learned at a young age that if I can run harder and get lower than the other player, I can take out anybody regardless of how much bigger they were than me. That was my mentality. I was fearless, and I put on the pads and the helmet. The coach has recognized that, and it slowly started inserting me into the game because I was just making plays.

This story, there are so many parallels when I was playing back in my day. I went to a big high school in Seattle called Roosevelt High School and I was very fortunate to get scholarship offers at DI schools. I ended up choosing to go the University of Washington and back in those days, they’re back to where they were now. We’re going to Rose Bowls and every year, you’re going somewhere with good teams. I came in, I was 6’2”, 181 pounds and I could not bench my weight. A lot of the upperclassmen used to call me crash and burn because I was fearless like you, but I just didn’t have the strength to take on that level of talent. More so, a lot of times when you beef up, you’re also providing protection around your body, building up those muscles so that they can insulate you against those big tackles. I salute you because you had the guts in the world to go out there and take these guys on but you probably wasn’t as physically developed. I didn’t start playing until my third year. There was a lot of time I spent the weight before I ever saw the light of day on the field. When I did, I was prepared for it. In your case, probably a D-III, they’re probably playing more guys and you’ve got talent and they could see that. That must’ve been what was going through working your way up on the special teams.

I was fearless. I wasn’t very strong. I needed a lot more time in the weight room and development in my body. I was still growing. Now, I’m probably 6’1”, so I didn’t physically mature as an eighteen-year old. I was fearless, I had some raw talent and they wanted me to get in the game. It was crazy though, just thinking about how much bigger the other players were than me, but it was something that never got in my head.

I played this position in particular in the NFL, which was L2 or R2 which is that right or left outside in on the kickoff team. Essentially, your job is to run like a crazy man as fast as you can for 60 yards until you come upon the wall. Once in that wall, you’ve got to crash through that wall or somehow or another, get to that returner and take them out and that’s what you did. I saw the play on that. It looked like there’s a small opening that came open on that right side and you just went in headfirst.

I was sprinting hard and I saw that opening. I had to keep outside containment and once I knew that the runner wasn’t going to be running outside, he’s going to run through this hole, I made an instinct decision to go for it and try to cut them off. I lost sight of him amongst the different players. I took the angle that I thought would be best to get my head in front of the ball carrier and crash with my shoulder pads. Unfortunately, I mistimed the jump just by a split second and my head collided right with his legs. All of a sudden, I’m just lying there face down, motionless. I can’t feel a thing. I hear a player come over the top of me telling me, “Get up, Norty.” I’m telling them, “I’ll be fine. Just give me a second. I just need some more time. I can’t move or feel anything.” It felt like someone turned off the power to my body. I’m waiting for this power to come back on so I can get up and run off the field because it felt like any other play. I made a similar play like that hundreds of times on kickoff. I’m sprinting down, running in front of the ball carrier and it’s always worked out for me. I’ve always made the contact with my shoulder. I’ve never had any concussions or any issues like that. I’ve always tried to play very smart but on this one, my body wasn’t physically developed. I mistimed the jump and next thing I know I’m motionless from the neck down.

[Tweet “Whatever the scare is, it’s going to work out for me. Things will be fine.”]

Something that you can relate to and I can relate to, what a lot of people don’t understand is that when you’re running 60 yards as fast as your legs can take you, it is almost impossible to stop as they’re coming towards you. There’s a guy with the ball trying to run past you and to not have your momentum take you leading with your head. It’s a hard thing not to do. So many times in the NFL and college, they’re trying to look at how they changed that rule to prevent as many injuries as they’ve had on those different kickoff and kickoff return teams. It’s been pretty intense. My question for you is as you’re lying there, were you in pain?

I wasn’t in any pain at all. I couldn’t feel or move a single thing and that includes the pain. I was confused. I had a stinger once in high school once again, trying to tackle a player much bigger than me. I took them out but as a result, I had bad stinger that left me motionless on the right side of my body for about a minute. After a minute, I was able to finally get movement and feeling back and I walked off the field. I’m thinking I have a bad stinger and I needed some more time. The trainer’s run out and they started asking me all their questions, “Chris, can you make a fist with your hand?” I tried making a fist nothing worked. They asked, “Chris, can you feel us touching your leg?” I couldn’t feel a thing and they keep asking these questions. I had the same answer was no. I was so confused of why this was happening.

Eventually, they get the EMTs. The EMTs called in for a helicopter and that’s when I knew, “This is serious. This is not a routine injury. This is something very severe.” At that point, I closed my eyes and begin to pray. I was trying to block out everything that was going on around me. My life was going perfect. Everything was going according to plan. I did not want anything in my life to change and I was so scared and uncertain for the future and what my life would be like going forward. I was trying to block it out and pray for strength and put this all behind me.

Is this one of these scenes where everybody in the field, they’re kneeling down, the stands grow quiet, they ultimately bring over like a hardboard and they get you on that, they get you off on this other field and then the helicopter lands there?

Yes, the stadium was very quiet. Everybody down on one knee. They pushed me across the field to get into the ambulance and then the ambulance took me to the local hospital. Then from the local hospital, the helicopter landed on the roof of the hospital and they flew me out to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Your mind is going a million miles per hour and just praying and hoping for the best. I’m sure your mind wasn’t even going to what ultimately happened to you, which was the full-on fracture of your C3 and your C4.

I was completely naive to spinal cord injuries and what that means or what that looks like. I was completely confused. I’m thankful that I was completely naive to that because I feel like things would have been even worse for me knowing what the results could have been. I was uncharacteristically calm. Everything worked out for me. I thought, “Whatever the scare is, it’s going to work out for me. Things will be fine. This isn’t going to disrupt my life,” because up to this point, nothing disrupted my life. It wasn’t until right before surgery when I asked the surgeon, “Will I walk again?” At this point, I’m thinking, “I don’t care if I ever play a single game of football. I don’t care if I play sports again, just give me the ability to walk.” He said, “I don’t know.” He had this look and body language of failure and disappointment. You could read it on him and he looked down on the ground and said, “I don’t know.” That was the moment when I lost it and was scared that this might be my life. I wake up on October 17, 2010 and they tell me, “Chris, you have a 3% chance of ever regaining any feeling or movement back below the neck.” I was just devastated, I was crushed. I was like, “How could this be?” I had to pretty quickly reject it and get back to my stubborn mindset of, “I’m not going to be part of the 97%, I’m going to be the 3%. I’m going to do whatever it takes to be that 3%.”

That’s the full-on warrior mentality, which is the exact same reason why you get yourself on the field as a freshman. Just relentless and fearless and everything else. The story you told me is the exact nightmare that you lived, but what I also feared back in the day. I was a wide receiver, so it was guys like you that go over the center, jump high in the air, and get cracked. Back in the day, you’re probably too young to remember this guy, there was a guy, Oakland Raiders, DB, that completely took out a guy for the Patriots, Darryl Stingley, and he had the same end result that happened to you. That always was in the back of my mind, my greatest fear ever would be to have something like that happen to me. Thankfully, it didn’t, but your story takes a dramatic turn for a lot of reasons. You’re focusing on this 3%. What were the things that you had to do? What was the grind in terms of your rehab to try to even have a shot at this 3%? What did you have to go through?

The first thing I tried to focus on is, “What can I control? What can I do?” At that point, it seemed like little to nothing, but I knew I could control my attitude and my effort. Something that no one can take away from me. Something that I try to focus on is, “What can I do now? What’s one thing I can improve on?” The first thing that they give me to do was to nod my head yes and no. I can do it very slightly and I would nod my head yes and no for hours. Eventually, I was able to move my neck more. Then I was starting to shrug my left shoulder, beating the odds. I would shrug my left shoulder for hours and hours on end. I kept requesting for more therapy hours and more training hours and asking my occupational therapist who worked with my upper body and my physical therapist who worked with my lower body to write up workouts I can do on my own. I was willing to do and take that extra step because I knew my future will take care of itself when I take care of today. That was my ultimate motto is making sure I take care of now and the rest will fall into place. Looking down the road and looking at the future, of all the uncertainty of where I was at was absolutely daunting. It made me want to quit. That’s with anything in life, when you look too far down the future, sometimes that’s the most paralyzing thing you can do to yourself. You can just focus on, “What can I do now to get a little bit better?” That’s what’s going to set you up for that future to success.

FYS 56 | Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury: When someone’s going through something hard, they just want you to be there for them. They just want to know that they’re not alone.

We’re switching a little bit into my world, which is mountain climbing. Everything’s about one step in front of the other as you’re trying to achieve that summit. It sounds like a lot of those parallels hold true to what you had to go through. You can’t look at your whole life as a whole. You had to look at minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, what can you do to improve and hopefully get yourself to the next step. You’re in this rehab for five, six years? I’m sure you’re still going through stuff. Where was the point where they can release you from this certain rehab facility and now your decision to say, “I want to go back and finish up my college.”

It was seven months of in-patient, out-patient in Minnesota before I went home to Des Moines, Iowa. That summer at Des Moines, that’s when I decided that I need to go back to college, get my degree and also continue my training. In the fall of 2011, I returned to Luther College into campus. I lived in a dorm there with some friends. I still need a lot of help, guys to get me to and from class. I can only type with the side of my left pinky on an iPad. I couldn’t even use a computer, couldn’t use any books or textbooks. It was quite the challenge but you made it work when you want something. You’ll figure it out. I was bound and determined to go to school and try to live as much of a normal college life as possible. That’s when I started school back up and trying to make things work and I’m thankful that I wasn’t focusing on my physical recovery because at that point, I thought if I couldn’t walk, then I would be a failure and that I need to focus all my efforts into walking and training. Thankfully, I split that time up to also work on my career and trying to find something that I love to do because I find more fulfillment in what I’m doing now and the purpose that I’m living for than any physical movement has ever given me.

You talked about your friends. It takes a village and anything you’re doing or anybody, if you have children, it takes that support. You mentioned your friends, your buddies that would help you to class and all the other things that you needed, what about your parents? Where do they come in?

My parents were incredible. They were at the football game when I was injured. They came out into the field and checked on me and then they drove right up to the hospital when I got airlifted and then they never left my side. There was always someone in my room, always someone with me every step of the way. That was huge to have my parents there. I had my two sisters there with me at all times. I had friends and community members visiting me. That meant a lot to me because people in society, we undervalue the appreciation and what you can gain from people’s presence because people think that if they can’t relate with you, then how can it help? You don’t have to have the perfect words to tell somebody. You don’t need to fix something. When someone’s going through something hard, they just want you to be there for them. They just want to know that they’re not alone. That was something that my parents and family and friends did, was they made sure to know that I would never be alone in this fight. That I can always lean on them because they didn’t know what I was going through. They couldn’t relate, but they were always there for me. They gave me their presence. That’s the most valuable present you can give to somebody is that if you don’t know what to say.

It’s the power of human connection. You said something that’s insightful. My dad died of a massive stroke. When you’re going through those type of tough times, going towards the person versus shying away is always the right move. It just means so much. One time, there was a friend of mine who died of this awful cancer. I called him up after and I just sat on the phone. I would go, “I’ve got literally nothing to offer, but I just want to call and say hi.” It meant the world to him. That’s amazing that your parents were there and your friends and your family and for everybody else who was there to help lift you up. It took you a few years, probably longer than you thought to graduate from college because you said you can’t hold the book. You’re limited in these different things that you had to do, plus you’re doing on this rehab training. 

I finished school a semester later than I was scheduled to do. Originally, I was supposed to graduate in 2014. I ended up graduating about the fall semester of 2015. That’s where I was training simultaneously to walk my graduation stage, which I set the goal to do.

When did you set that goal? You’re back in school, you’re with your buddies, you’re making it through and you’re progressing. Was it day one or the first quarter, second? Where did you plant that goal, like, “My goal is to walk across that stage and accept that diploma?”

It would have been the first year I was back in college where I set the goal that I want to walk across the stage on my college graduation. I didn’t know how I was going to do it and I wasn’t vocal about it. I wasn’t open about it because I was scared to let people in on that goal because I might fail. It was about a year before my graduation, maybe a little bit longer where I made it more vocal and it helped me be more accountable for my goal. I told everybody that cared to listen that, “This is my goal. I’m going to figure out a way to walk across the stage.” It made me that much more committed to it because it gave me that accountability. There are two answers to that question because I had it in my mind and then it took to the turn when I vocally tell people.

I’m sure including yourself, you don’t know what the end result’s going to be. It’s high stakes. Are you going to get up? Are you going to fall down? Is it going to happen? Just to graduate on top of that is incredible. Let me ask you about a person named Emily Summers. Do you know her?

I do know her. She is now my wife.

The video that I saw, and correct me if I’m wrong, I believe she was onstage and the goal was to get up and she helped you navigate across that stage to get that diploma. It was just a very emotional moment.

Emily was a big reason to vocalize my goal in the first place. She encouraged me to go after and she believed in me and it gave me more belief in myself to make it happen regardless of the end result. Just to know that you gave it your all is what’s most important. That’s when I committed to that goal. We’ve been dating for a few years and then it was the day before my college graduation, which I proposed to her and I was more nervous for that proposal than the actual graduation walk in front of thousands of people. Not that she would say no, I just want it to go perfect, but it would have been awkward if she would’ve said no.

[Tweet “You make it work when you want something. You’ll figure it out.”]

Did Emily go to Luther? Is that where you met her?

I met her as I was taking the varsity. She was going there at the time when I was going to Luther and we met about three years after my injury.

She’s an incredible woman. There is a video that I saw of Chris getting up and Emily helping Chris navigate this whole thing. This YouTube video has been seen by more than 300 million people. It’s incredible and it will move you to tears. It was like all your focus, all your effort was to get yourself out of that chair and move a foot forward. When all this stuff happened, you turned around and everybody was in tears.

That was an unbelievable moment. I was nervous with me walking across the stage. I would slow down graduation because I knew that it wasn’t just me graduating. There are a lot of people graduating. I was worried I wasn’t getting booed off the stage or something, taking my time going across the stage. I had a lot of pressure on myself and then when I looked up to receive my diploma, everybody was clapping and crying. There’s so much emotion in the room and it caught me off guard. That wasn’t the reaction I was anticipating, but it was a special moment that I’ll never forget. Then to see it go viral and touched so many lives across the world have put in motion my new purpose in life, which is to give back and help other people find that inspiration to overcome their own adversity. We’re all facing adversity in some way. Mine, you can see, it’s visible, but a lot of our challenges and adversity, you can’t see. It’s invisible. You can’t see someone who’s going through depression or fighting cancer. You can’t see someone who’s lost a loved one. You can’t see someone who’s in debt, a divorce, whatever it may be. Those are all challenges and adversity that we all face that aren’t visible. When people are more than willing to be kind and thoughtful to me, what I encourage them to do is to continue that onto someone that you don’t know or whose challenges you can’t see because we’re all facing something.

You said that absolutely perfectly and the reason why I started this podcast is because I’ve had plenty of my adversity with the divorce and with my dad passing away and in other things. I think you’re right. I asked this question when I’m out public speaking and I would say, “Is there anybody ever been through a tough time?” I wait for the hands either go up or down and if they don’t go up, “You’re lying because everybody has gone through something that’s relevant to their experience, what they’ve gone through.” Mirroring what you said about some people are very visible, like yourself, and others aren’t. It affects everybody in their own way because it’s so unique and special to them because they’re going through it. When did you get married to Emily?

I got married to Emily April 21st of 2018.

How did People Magazine get involved in all this? There a second video that I saw which I don’t know if you’re walking down the aisle or when you were walking back, but they filmed this whole marriage that you guys had and it was beautiful and amazing and emotional. Tell me a little bit about that.

There’s a documentary team called Fotolanthropy. They’re making a documentary on my life story from my injury all the way to my seven-yard walk, which was to walk Emily down the aisle seven yards after we got married. The film’s called 7 Yards. They’re filming all these different shots and angles at the wedding and leading up to it. Then we entered into a great relationship with People Magazine that they wanted to be the exclusive partner to be able to share the story when it hit media in newsstands and be part of their magazine and everything. I’ve been working with both those groups and it’s been a great partnership to get the story out there and to give people hope and inspiration. We we’re all facing something and to show me and Emily moving forward despite our circumstance is a beautiful thing and we hope that other people find that inspiration to move past whatever they’re dealing with.

FYS 56 | Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal Cord Injury: We look for the challenge because that’s when life becomes its most beautiful, when you can get through those challenges.

You put these different goals of walking on stage to accept your diploma and then also walking seven yards. Both of you said I do, now you’re officially married. In your rehab, how long did that take for you to get that down?

You could say that I’ve been training for seven and a half years since I was first injured for that moment because it’s been nonstop working for the last seven and a half years. After the graduation walk, I knew I wanted to walk Emily down the aisle once we were married, but I didn’t know how we’re going to do it and what we’re going to do. We decided that we’re going to walk side-by-side down the aisle versus her being in front of me. If you look back at the graduation walk, she’s in front of me holding onto two arms pretty tightly. Then at the wedding, she was at my side, which I don’t get a lot of support with and seven yards is a lot further than a couple of yards that I went for the graduation walk. The first time we tried training for that side-by-side walk about a year ago, I couldn’t even take one step and I was so frustrated. I was thinking, “What kind of goal did I get myself into? This can be problematic if I can even take step right now.” Over time, once again, just putting as much effort as I can each and every day to get a little bit better and slowly over time where I got to the point the last week or two before the wedding, I knew I was going to get the seven yards. I knew I was physically strong enough and I trained myself to be ready for that moment.

How does that work with your body? When you’re lying there on the ground back at Luther College and you can’t feel anything, now, you’re in a position where you can take X amount of steps, are you feeling your legs?

I have an incomplete injury, which some of the nerve connections are still intact at the injury site. A complete injury as a severed, spinal cord injury and that means you can’t get anything back below the injury site. I’ve been able to regain some strength below the injury site. I’ve regained sensation throughout my entire body where I can feel touch. It’s not normal sensation, so I can’t feel pain. I can’t feel temperatures. I can feel my legs moving and activating, but I can’t feel muscle soreness. It’s not a real deep sensation that I feel, but I can still feel all those different feelings and movements. Then my training is a lot of mental training too because I know how to move my leg. I know how to move my arms, but it’s just a matter of connecting that signal to those muscles. Sometimes you have to concentrate to get that signal across because those signals had been damaged so severely from that hit that it takes some more time and it takes some more patterning to make it come to life and make it reactivate again.

What is the trajectory for where you sit today to where you are going to be in five or ten years?

It’s so tough to answer. That was probably the hardest part of the spinal cord injury, especially an incomplete injury. When I try to talk to my surgeons and doctors, just giving the prognosis of what’s going to happen to me, it was always, “I don’t know. Everybody’s different.” It’s hard to categorize different injuries because there are millions and millions of nerve roots and endings that it’s hard to predict what comes back or doesn’t come back. That was probably the most frustrating thing about all this is the uncertainty and that’s where they thought, given my injury level and when I had at the point at that time, they gave me a 3% chance to get any feeling or movement back below the neck, not just to walk, but the feel or move, to scratch an itch on my face, to be able to breathe on my own, to feed myself, all those little things that are easily overlooked. I don’t know what the trajectory is for me for five or ten years.

I know I want to focus on my upper body, get some strength back to do more wheeling. I would like to do some hand cycling and be more independent from my chair. I’m going to still working my walking, but I’ll making sure I’m taking care of my upper body as well. Then career-wise, I’m motivated to share from the worst day of my life on October 16th when I was hit hard to the best day of my life when I walked Emily down the aisle of our wedding and sharing how I did it and the steps that I took. Steps that anyone can take to take you from a place of hardship and adversity to a place that exceeds your imagination. That’s where I’m focused at.

When I was talking with Deb, she said that your wife, Emily, is the complete dynamo, which she is. Didn’t you guys take on about eighteen kids now?

It feels like we have eighteen kids. The real number is five. It’s a circus at our house, but it’s so fun and how these kids are from the foster care system and it’s rewarding to us to be able to offer them a home and love and care and see the transformation that takes place in their life and their attitudes and their demeanor. See them become the people who they’re meant to be because they come in so broken from wherever they were at before. To give them that home is something that Emily and I love and something that Emily encouraged me to take on.

[Tweet “A lot of our challenges and adversity, you can’t see. It’s invisible.”]

Emily already is a rockstar for taking this on from the standpoint of knowing that it’s not the normal type of relationship where healthy on both ends and everything else. To not only go down this path with you with complete excitement and joy, but also to take on these five little ones in your life is a lot. I’ve got two girls and there are no issues at all that you talked about a broken home and broken heart and broken spirit. That’s just not the case, but it’s still hard. Kids are hard and it can be very joyful. I’m so blessed to have mine, but another kudos to you. You do not shy away from challenges.

We do not shy away from challenges. Emily and I, we embraced challenges. We look for the challenge because that’s when life becomes its most beautiful is when you can get through those challenges. When you can overcome them, there’s something special about that and rewarding about that. We go towards the brokenness and we’d go towards things that are tough and as a result, I feel like we’re living our best life by doing that. We’re appreciative of where we are and what we’re doing. We feel so good about it. For myself, if I could go back and change that play on October 16, 2010, I wouldn’t do it because I found a life that’s worth living for and I found a purpose in giving back. My spinal cord injury has given me opportunities that before were inconceivable. I’m able to reach millions of people now in to inspire them and help them overcome their own challenges. Those things are more rewarding than any physical ability gave me in the past.

You’ve got life in the absolute right mirror in terms of looking at it with 100% positivity. You’re paying it forward. You had this awful thing happened to you and you’re taking this and you’re finding that the magical gifts that had been wrapped up in this and now you’re being a parent, both you and your wife Emily, to these kids who otherwise would not have had this life. It’s a multiplier effect because you’re affecting their life, but then they’re going to grow up and hopefully, they’re great people and they affect change. It can be multiplied for years and years with all these generations of their kids to come and people they marry. That’s amazing. Let’s talk about The Power of Faith When Tragedy Strikes, a book that you and your dad wrote.

My dad and I wrote this book and completed it back in October of 2015 and that tells our story from the day of the injury all the way to the graduation walk. It’s in-depth with the different things that we had to encounter, each and every day at the hospital and all those challenges that came with a spinal cord injury, which is more much more than just being able to walk. The sacrifices that I had to make, the sacrifices that my family had to make, and how faith carried us through the most difficult times. To be able to share those details and how we were able to overcome it and how other people can do it too is special to have that in the book and to have a great writer like Christy Hayes, to write it for us. Emily and I, we’re close to wrapping up a book proposal for a new book about our love story and how faith and love carried us through to make those seven yards possible, going from a 3% chance to walk in seven yards. It’s a couple things that we’re very excited about.

FYS 56 | Spinal Cord Injury

The Power of Faith When Tragedy Strikes: A Father-Son Memoir

I know you’re also public speaking out there too.

I have a motivational speaking career and sharing what I did and the actions that I took that anyone can take because we all go through adversity. We all take hits in life. We need to stand back up once we take a hit. We need to have that comeback.

Where can people find you?

The best way to find me is ChrisNorton.org. That’s my website where you can look and see my motivational speaking. You can see my book, my film. You can get information of my foundation and connect with me on social media. I do a lot on Instagram, @ChrisANorton16. You can find that all in my website.

I didn’t know that much about you, and then Deb sent me some stuff. I’m like, “I’ve got to interview this guy. This guy is amazing.” You’re such an inspiration to so many, certainly myself. I feel very honored and grateful that you came on the pod.

Thank you so much for having me.


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