Chris Norton didn’t know if he would ever walk again following a football accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down back in 2010, let alone down the aisle during a spring wedding to his “dream girl,” Emily Summers.
But on April 21, the former college athlete had the biggest smile on his face as he proudly walked all seven yards down the aisle with the literal support of Summers at their Jupiter, Florida wedding, marking their first steps together as husband and wife.
“There have been a lot of moments where we’ve struggled,” Norton told People about the road to rehabilitation and that fateful walk down the wedding aisle before their 200 friends and loved ones. “But anything is possible if we don’t give up. We want to be an example that life can be remarkable. I’m so blessed and happy with where I am.”
4/21/18 was a dream come true for @emilysummersnorton & I, and I cannot wait to share the details of the special day and how we WALKED down the aisle together TOMORROW with @people written by @caitlinskeating ….stay tuned 🙂 Thank you @sarahkatephoto By @7yardsfilm @fotolanthropy for this beautiful photograph!! Thanks @grodesigns for floral #7yardsfilm
Just over seven years ago, Norton, now 26, was in a very different spot. The then-18-year-old athlete was on the football field on October 16, 2010, playing for his team at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, when he mistimed a play during the third quarter, causing him to collapse onto the ground as though “someone had turned the power off to [his] body.”
Norton told People that the moments seemed to stretch out into hours as he struggled to stand back up. “I’m trying to push [myself up] off the ground, but nothing’s working,” he said. “I prayed to God to please let me just get up and walk off the field.”
He later learned that he had fractured his C3-C4 vertebrae, meaning that he only had a three percent chance of ever moving anything below his neck ever again. “I was scared,” Norton told the Des Moines Register in 2017. “In those early days, I wondered what kind of life I would have.”
Norton was determined to put himself in the slim margin of recovery, and put all his efforts into regaining mobility. With the help and support of his family, he was able to return to college as a sophomore that following August.
But Norton, always one to seek self-improvement, wasn’t satisfied with just returning to school. He wanted to someone to be his partner in life, but worried that his physical limitations would get in the way of meeting his future wife.
“I wanted to be a dad and have a wife,” he told People. “But I didn’t want to burden somebody with everything I needed.”
The former athlete did go on a few dates, but it wasn’t until he connected with Summers via an online dating app in August 2013 that he really felt like he’d met his match. Summers, now 25, was attending Iowa State University, and would later go on to work at a group home for abused youth. Norton was struck by her warm heart and caring personality.
“I was waiting for that girl who made me feel alive and someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with,” he said. “And then here comes Emily. I knew she was the one.”
Together, the couple pushed to help Norton achieve his goal of walking across the stage at his college graduation in May 2015. The night before the big walk, Norton made the biggest play he’d ever made before: for Summers’ heart. He proposed, and the next morning, the newly engaged couple walked across the length of the stage to proudly accept his diploma.
“It was incredible to see how motivated he was,” Summers added to the publication. “When he sets his mind to something, he does it. That’s why I fell in love with him.” More than 300 million people around the world have watched the video.
And earlier this month, the couple wowed people once again when Norton made his walk down the aisle, which was filmed as part of Fotolanthropy’s ongoing documentary about the couple and their perseverance to defy the odds.
Next on their agenda: continuing to keep the hope alive in others going through tough times. Norton, who now works full-time as a motivational speaker, told People that the driving force behind his work (he also started the Chris Norton Foundation back in 2012 to help raise funds for people with spinal cord injuries) is simple: to “give people hope and inspiration that they can overcome anything they’re going through.”