Standing together as husband and wife, the newlywed couple shared a kiss. And upon witnessing the tender scene, the congregation – made up of almost 200 of their family and friends – clapped and cheered. But perhaps nothing could have prepared the bride and groom’s loved ones for the emotion of what came next.
However, Chris Norton and his bride Emily Summers had been working on this moment for years. Determined to achieve his goal, Chris had undergone months of tough physical therapy ahead of the pair’s big day at the Abacoa Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida.
So, as their family and friends watched, Chris and Emily took the short walk down the aisle after saying their vows. Completing that distance of just seven yards side by side was something that the bride and groom had first set their minds to achieving back in 2015.
Chris, a former college football player, had first met Emily through a dating app. However, their first encounter had come three years or so after a devastating incident that changed the course of Chris’ life forever. During a football game in 2010, the groom-to-be was badly injured when a tackle went wrong.
And Chris had been a freshman for only six weeks when the accident happened; his team, Luther College, were playing against Central College in Iowa at the time. During the third quarter of the game, Chris had made a play at the wrong moment – and the consequences of that move would be significant.
Chris would explain to CNN in April 2018, “Instead of getting my head in front of the legs of the ball carrier, my head collided right with his legs.” Then, as Chris lay flat on his front on the field, he felt mortified that play would be stopped as a result of his mishap. Even so, he couldn’t manage to lift himself to his feet.
Then, when a helicopter touched down to take Chris to hospital, the player realized the gravity of the situation. He was subsequently admitted to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where doctors informed him that his C3-C4 vertebrae had been fractured. What’s more, as a consequence of the injury, there was only a 3 percent likelihood that he would now be able to ever move anything from the neck down.
So, as he lay in hospital, Chris was unable to feed himself or even scratch any itches on his face. During that period, he was unable to complete any normal everyday tasks, in fact. Looking back on that time, Chris said to The Des Moines Register in 2017, “I was scared. In those early days I wondered what kind of life I would have.”
But Chris wouldn’t come to terms with not being able to walk again. “I was going to be part of the 3 percent,” he told People in April 2018. And after a spell of rehabilitation and with the support of his family, he was eventually well enough to go back to college –beginning his sophomore year in summer 2011.
Despite all of the progress that he had made, though, there was something else on Chris’ mind. He ultimately wanted to be a husband and father, but the former football player wasn’t sure whether anyone would consider him a good match. In 2013 Chris decided to give online dating a try, however. And in the course of finding love, he encountered Emily – then a student at Iowa State University.
As it happens, Chris and Emily found that they had some things in common. They were people of faith, for instance, and both also had a desire to help transform others’ lives. Emily would later add to People, “I was extremely drawn to him and his story and how he wasn’t just going to give up. That’s how we first connected.”
And the couple began dating as Chris continued his rehabilitation. Emily even helped him find out about the Barwis Methods Training Center in Plymouth, Michigan, which offers physical therapy among its services. What’s more, Chris’ desire to improve himself impressed his girlfriend. “It was incredible to see how motivated he was,” Emily told People.
In addition, Chris told Emily that he had one aim in mind when it came to his rehabilitation: to walk across the stage on his graduation day. And in May 2015 he did just that. That occasion was made even more special for the couple, in fact, as Chris had proposed to Emily before he went to receive his diploma.
Then, in 2016, the couple moved to Florida. There, Chris began training with his end goal in sight. Life wasn’t always easy for the pair, though, as Chris remarked to People. In his interview with the magazine, he said, “There have been a lot of moments where we’ve struggled,” adding, “But anything is possible if we don’t give up.”
And as Chris and Emily prepared for their wedding, they were also busy looking after their new family. It all started when the couple, who were still in their early 20s at the time, agreed to foster a girl whom Emily had met a few years back. The teenager, called Whittley, was almost too old for the care system and had no place else to live.
Furthermore, in the midst of their wedding planning, Chris and Emily decided that they wanted to foster yet more children, and they welcomed a three-year-old and a two-month-old as a result. The couple now care for five children under the age of eight, four of whom are siblings. And Emily is more than satisfied with their choices, telling People, “[Fostering] is the best thing that we’ve ever done.”
Then, finally, the couple’s big day arrived. A video from the ceremony shows Emily bending down to help Chris out of his wheelchair – then, aided by his new wife, the groom makes his way back up the aisle. It’s a touching scene, although Chris has admitted to being apprehensive in the moment. He told People, “I just didn’t know how the steps would go. A couple steps were more difficult than others, but I was able to push through it and do it.”
In April 2018 Emily added to ABC News, “You have to sacrifice, you have to work really hard and follow God’s plan, and so it was such an incredible moment.” That sentiment was echoed by Chris, who said, “It was seven years in the making, seven years of sacrifice and hard work. So we’re just thankful to be able to share what really made that walk happen.”
Chris and Emily are now in the process of writing a book about their experiences, which will cover their lives from the moment of the accident to their wedding. The pair will also be the subjects of a documentary film, entitled 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story; crowdfunding for the movie is currently underway, with nearly $115,000 raised for its production.
Meanwhile, Chris has also plied his trade as a motivational speaker and raised in excess of $800,000 to help people with neuromuscular and spinal cord issues. Perhaps most notable, though, is his positive attitude in the face of adversity. The former football player told People, “Sometimes the world can seem dark and negative. I want to be that light in the world to show that life is awesome. Don’t give up on life.”