By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Five years to the day of a football accident that injured Chris Norton’s spine and changed the course of his life, the 23-year-old spoke to students at Regina Junior/Senior High School.
Pushing himself confidently in a wheelchair in the school gymnasium, Norton spoke of the faith and perseverance that led him to exceed doctors’ expectations after being injured Oct. 16, 2010, as a member of the Luther College football team. Originally, doctors were doubtful that he’d have any movement or sensation below his shoulders. Last spring, he walked across the stage to accept his diploma at Luther with the help of his fiancé.
“We will all face adversity,” he told the students. “It’s a part of life. We don’t have to be defined by it. We can shape our future.”
Norton grew up near Des Moines, Iowa, and currently resides in Michigan. Several of his family members, including father Terry, went to Regina. “Regina holds a special place in my heart; there are lots of family connections. My dad and uncle won state (football) championships here.”
He last spoke at Regina about three years ago, while still in college. Now he works as a motivational speaker, author, and founder of SCI CAN Foundation, which provides opportunities to individuals in need of a path to recovery. He visited Regina Oct. 16 to offer an update on his progress and share his insights with students.
Norton said challenges can feel overwhelming at times, whether large or small, and he encouraged students to focus on one day at a time. He said a Bible verse helped him during his nearly yearlong hospital stay and countless hours in rehab: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 9:1). Norton identifies himself as a nondenominational Christian.
“Lots of things don’t come easy, that’s OK,” Norton said. “But it’s not an excuse. You’ll always have control over your effort and attitude.”
Five years into recovery, Norton said he now has sensation throughout his body, although he cannot feel pain or temperature in his lower extremities. With intense physical therapy, he is able to stand unassisted for short periods of time and can walk while holding someone’s arm.
Students quickly rose to their feet after the presentation to offer Norton a standing ovation.
Following the presentation, Norton opened the floor for questions. For more than 10 minutes, students raised their hands high into the air, eager for a chance to learn more about Norton’s story. One student asked Norton if he’d choose to change the past if given the opportunity. “I wouldn’t take the injury back if I could,” he responded. He is more thankful for the blessings in his life and has grown closer to God, family and friends through the experience, he said. The accident gave him a direction in life, especially as it relates to his career.
Another student asked Norton if he ever confronted the football player from Central College who was involved in that fateful play. “I talked to him a year later, at the Central-Luther football game. He was in tears. I told him I had no hard feelings. … It was a freak accident … I knew it wasn’t his fault.”
Freshman Patrick Clark, a member of Regina’s football team, said Norton’s message was relatable and motivational, even though most students will never go through that type of trauma. “I thought it could help a lot of people to follow their dreams and not have other people telling them what they can and cannot do.”
Fellow football player Mason Simpson, a junior, said he admired Norton’s perseverance and attitude. “It’s great that even though the doctor said he couldn’t (move his legs or walk) he never stopped trying and always wanted to do more. It’s great that he could take something so bad that happened to him and turn it into something good.”
Visit Chris Nortion’s foundation, SCI CAN, at http://scicanfoundation.com.
Purchase Norton’s book, “The Power of Faith When Tragedy Strikes,” co-written by father Terry, at http://www.nortonmotivation.com/.