By Lindsay Steele – Now Streaming
‘7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story’ (Virgil Films) TV-PG
Streaming service: Netflix
Rating: N/A. The documentary does not show footage of Chris Norton’s injury, but the physical and emotional trauma is discussed in detail. The Catholic Messenger recommends children watch with an adult due to the sensitive subject matter.
Summary: It took Chris Norton seven years to walk his bride seven yards down the aisle after a life-altering football tackle. Chris did not allow the tackle and the ensuing paralysis to define him; instead, he inspired millions when he walked across the graduation stage to receive his university diploma. Chris and his bride, Emily, overcame all odds, persevering through paralysis. Today, they live with their five adopted daughters.
Synopsis: Chris Norton has a connection to the Diocese of Davenport through his father, Terry, a Regina-Iowa City graduate. Chris spoke to Regina students in 2015 on the fifth anniversary of his injury and I had the pleasure of covering the event and hearing his inspirational talk first-hand. This documentary served as an update for me and it was heartwarming to see what he has accomplished since that time as an individual and alongside his wife Emily (Summers) Norton, a Muscatine native.
Chris describes himself as a nondenominational Christian and this documentary includes several references to his faith and how it gave him hope and purpose following the injury he endured playing football for Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in 2010. He said in 2015, and again in the documentary, that he would not change the past if given the opportunity. He believes the injury made it possible to fulfill God’s plan for his life — to motivate and encourage people who are struggling.
Interviews with Chris’s parents illuminate the anxiety they felt after the injury. They worried he wouldn’t be able to find happiness or fulfillment without the ability to walk independently. They are grateful their son has found happiness in his career as a motivational speaker and author, husband and father. They, too, credit God for the strength to heal emotionally.
The documentary shows the importance of treating individuals with disabilities with dignity. Chris commented that his college friends visited him often in hospital after the accident, offering a sense of normalcy at an otherwise uncertain time. “We just wanted to hang out with him,” one friend said. They focused on what Chris could do and kept the conversations light-hearted. For example, the first Christmas after the accident, Chris’ friends came to the hospital wearing ugly Christmas sweaters and brought an extra one for him. When he returned to school, his friends and teammates took turns helping him with daily tasks. They helped Chris find humor in challenging situations instead of feeling sorry for him.
Another part of Chris’ story is his journey to fatherhood. The documentary touches on Emily’s lifelong passion for helping children in the foster care system. Now she shares that passion with her husband. They adopted their five daughters through the foster care system, including an older teen who was experiencing challenges. Interviewed in the documentary, that daughter tearfully expresses how Chris and Emily changed her life simply by loving and believing in her. Their family has grown since the documentary was released in 2021 — they adopted a son with medical issues last year through the foster care system. The couple continues to accept foster placements in their home.
Watch this inspirational documentary with your family and friends. Just make sure to keep a box of tissues handy!
What setback in your life ultimately led to better things?
How did Chris’ faith help bring him back from despair?
What did this documentary teach you about caring for persons with disabilities?
What is one way you can give a little more in your life, as Chris Norton suggests?
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)