Graduation season is upon us, and it’s hard not to feel inspired by so many people achieving their dreams and starting their new lives. For most people collecting their diplomas, thinking about how they’re going to walk across that stage is not in the front of their minds. But for 23-year-old Chris Norton, that walk might mean more than the piece of paper at the other end. Chris had to fight his way back from a paralyzing injury, just so he could receive his diploma while standing on his own two feet.
Last weekend Chris graduated from Luther College in northern Iowa, after battling his way through an injury that nearly cost him his life. Chris fractured his spine during a football game his freshman year, resulting in paralysis from the neck down.
Doctors gave Chris only a 3% chance of ever regaining movement below his neck, but he didn’t let that tiny percentage stop him from achieving the ultimate goal. He told NBCNews, “My graduation walk was what I considered my game day or Olympic event. My full focus was to take the best steps I could possibly take and not worry about the audience or anything else.”
Getting to that point, however, took a LOT of really hard work and determination. He dedicated hours and hours to physical therapy and rehab and even completed his school work a semester early so he could spend six hours a day preparing for his big graduation walk.
After four years of physical therapy and a little help from his brand-new fiancé, Emily Summers (they got engaged the day before graduation), Chris was able to walk across that stage and receive his diploma. He told NBC, “So many people, including myself, fear failure, it’s human. But if you do everything in your power to accomplish your dreams, at the end of the day, you can be proud and happy with how far you’ve come.”
Chris isn’t stopping with his own dreams, he’s going a long way to help others accomplish their dreams too. Feeling lucky to have the financial support and insurance he does, Chris realized that others suffering similar injuries might not have the advantages he did.
So, Chris started the SCI CAN Foundation to raise money for other people suffering from spinal cord injuries. Chris and his foundation have been able to raise enough money to buy necessary supplies including wheelchairs, exercise bikes, and hand rehabilitation systems, to help those in need. Chris not only used his determination to ensure he would walk at graduation, now he’s using it to help others too.
Chris is living proof that you should never take one second or one step for granted. Watch the video of Chris and Emily’s walk across the stage. It is inspiring, and human, and incredibly beautiful. Congratulations Chris.