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No Barriers Podcast Episode 110: Determination and Faith with Chris Norton



Jeff and Erik meet with Chris Norton – who Jeff aptly nicknames “a 3-percenter” because he not only beat the odds in his physical recovery but has used the adversity in his life as fuel to find purpose and identity. Through his faith and incredible determination, he lives a meaningful life as a father, husband, and speaker.

As an 18-year-old freshman at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Chris Norton suffered a devastating spinal cord injury during a college football game.

Told by doctors that he had only a 3 percent chance of regaining movement below the neck, Chris has continually defied medical odds and, in 2015, successfully accomplished his goal of walking across his college graduation stage with the help of his then-fiancee, Emily.

Video from the event went viral, inspiring millions worldwide. Most recently, he walked Emily 7 yards down the aisle of their wedding – documented in his film “7 Yards” now available on Netflix.

Chris believes that our lives aren’t shaped by circumstance. They’re shaped by us. Perseverance isn’t about the physical act of standing: it’s about attitude, and the ability to shape yourself in the face of adversity.

Resources:

Read more about Chris and book him for your next speaking gig

Watch 7 Yards on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or AppleTV

Follow Chris on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn

“Life’s lowest moments can be the source of our greatest gifts. Every pain point has been such a teaching moment for me. And pain and that suffering can teach you so much about life and who you are. And it certainly has taught me a ton”.

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Episode Transcript

Chris : Norton: Life's lowest moments can be the source of our greatest gifts. Every pain point has been such a teaching moment for me. And paining and that suffering, it can teach you so much about life and who you are. And it certainly has taught me a ton.

Erik : It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon. And I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means. And part of the equation is diving into the learning process, and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in, in the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward, is what we call no barriers. Speaker 3: As an 18 year old freshman at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa,

Chris : Norton suffered a devastating spinal cord injury during a college football game. Told by doctors that he had only a 3% chance of regaining movement below the neck,

Chris : has continually defied medical odds. And in 2015, successfully accomplished his goal of walking across his college graduation stage with the help of his then fiance Emily. Video from the event went viral inspire millions worldwide. Most recently, he walked Emily seven yards down the aisle of their wedding. Documented in his film, 7 Yards now available on Netflix. Amazing podcast episode, amazing young man.

Erik : We got Jeff on.

Jeff: Hey

Chris :, what's up my man?

Chris : Norton: Nice to see you.

Jeff: You too buddy. You're a legend, man. You are an absolute legend. You've impacted this house, my wife, my kid and I over the past 24 hours, significantly. You've been the topic of a lot of conversations which we will get into. But I was dehydrated after I watched all this content on you man. I'm just being a big baby and crying all the time. Thank you for making time for us today and-

Chris : Norton: Yeah.

Jeff: ... sharing your story with us. I know that your time is very valuable. You've got you got a lot going on bro.

Chris : Norton: I got a handful at my house. I got six kids involved right now. But I think to try to keep the noise minimal, they're going to the park for a little bit.

Erik : I love that. I want to hear kids screaming in the background, I think that would add to the ambience of the podcast.

Chris : Norton: Yeah. But they'll probably make an appearance later on.

Jeff: This film was very, very, very well done. Eric and I've been a part of a lot of film and documentary projects. This is next level. This is next level content here. The way that it bled from one storyline to the next, the visual components of it, the music background, the score, really all of it really is fantastic. So I really encourage everyone to watch this film.

Erik : 7 Yards. And what about the football footage that was probably like training footage, right? Like they film the games anyway, right?

Chris : Norton: Yeah. So actually, what's really cool about the football footage is they blended two different shots. So an actual reenactment with a real game of Luther College playing Central College, which was the team that I was playing against. So it was really cool how they were able to piece real live football footage with a reenactment footage. So they did a remarkable job. But doing that reenactment, going into it, I wasn't worried about it. I'm a motivational speaker, I share my story all the time. I had to relive that injury in that play.

Chris : Norton: But when you get on the shoulder pads, that helmet, which was a lot of fun, don't get me wrong. I thought that was really cool. Putting the pads back on, never thought I'd do that again. But then when I laid in the exact same spot where I was injured just seven years earlier, it was spooky. It just flooded back all these memories, and these emotions of that fear, and that uncertainty. During that filming I kept wiggling my toes just to remind myself I was like, "Okay, you get better. It's okay. It's not in 2010 when you were injured." And I would also shrug my shoulder, move my body around every single time I could just keep reinforcing that it's okay. There's a happy ending.

Erik : Isn't it crazy to you how visceral that is? Because I totally relate to what you're saying. There are moments in my life really hard, traumatic moments, and when I go back or watch footage of that, I cry like a baby. I go, "I'm not going to cry this time." And then I'm like... It's like you're crying for that kid. You moved on, right? In so many ways, but yet at the same time you still cry for that kid, and the pain he went through. Is that the way you think about it?

Chris : Norton: Absolutely. That's a great way to put it. I've never really thought about it like that. But that's exactly right. Like I was just thinking about how I felt at that moment, and that the uncertainty and the fear that came with it. And you wish you could just comfort yourself back then, to tell yourself it's going to work out. But yeah, it's really what it was, that emotional pole. And also, for my family. My family, especially my mom, as you saw the documentary she's a wreck emotional. And so, I really felt for her too.

Erik : Of course, yeah. You almost feel worse for her, right?

Jeff: She actually makes the comment just like that. When you were getting married she said, "If I could have just told myself that I knew this day would come, it would comfort that version of me." And it sounds like we don't have the novelty of being able to look forward, all we can see is this very moment right now. And that was a literal and figurative backbreaker for you, your family, your community and everything around you. But then that crystal ball had given you the wonderful opportunities and go back and be in those shoes, and those pads again, had to have been somewhat therapeutic if not maybe frightening. But knowing where you are now, and the progression that you've made has to be also be an uplifting feelings for you soulfully, right?

Chris : Norton: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. That was one of the prayers I made early on. When I was in the hospital, and I was gripping with this new reality, that was my prayer. I was like, "God can I get a glimpse of my future? Can I see how you could possibly work this mess together and make any good or purpose out of this pain because I was just trying to understand it. God got you got your hands full, I don't know how you're going to put this together. But if I could just get a glimpse of my future, that could just give me maybe a sense of peace of what I'm going through right now." But obviously your faith, and that doesn't work like that. You have to just trust and belief.

Erik : And so, I don't want to put words in your mouth. But yeah, Jeff alluded to the idea that faith and then from the film, how important was that through the process for you, faith in God? And just letting go and trusting or... Because I think, okay, that sounds great, but in real life, as you said you didn't hear a voice like, "You're going to marry a beautiful woman, and you're going to walk at graduation, and you're going to foster a ton of kids," right?

Chris : Norton: Yeah, exactly. It was really tough every single day. Especially at night, going to sleep at night was the worst. I'd often cry myself to sleep. I can't even wipe the tears away from my eyes, and I'm just having all these questions about my future. And I'm just pleading with God. But thankfully, my faith what it did was, it really gave me this light at the end of the tunnel. And everything that I've learned about God and my faith is that, God can take your broken pieces and give it purpose. That he can turn it into good. But I just questioned like, "Can you really do that? I feel like you got your hands full, this is going to be too much of a mess." But I just really believed in that, to hold on to that faith and that hope.

Chris : Norton: And so, that gave me hope and that motivation that I have to keep going. I had to do my part and see what happens. And I felt like I didn't have any other choice, really. Although there's plenty of times where I felt like getting into that fear and what I could see, and what I could see was not good. The doctors were telling me a 3% chance of ever moving anything below that neck, that I'll never move my legs again. So it was dark at times from the medical staff. But I just held on to that faith.

Erik : Faith but also, and maybe this is a piece of faith is that you had this incredible family and you had incredible friends, your team. Anybody who's been a part of a team, I was a wrestler in high school and I know the love of that team. And that was one of my favorite parts of the film. That your buddy slept in the same bed with you, so if you had like an edge, or you had something you needed in the night, they'd be there for you. I thought that was freaking beautiful.

Jeff: I mean Erik you and I have slept next to each other, but I would never ask you-

Erik : Just the little spoon on the big spoon

Chris :.

Chris : Norton: Oh, okay.

Jeff: We definitely spooned. But I've never asked him to, I don't know if I'd feel comfortable with him scratching my itch. But-

Erik : I would though.

Jeff: You know-

Erik : No, Jeff. That's a lie. Jeff and I did a big adventure race through Morocco for a month. And his back was so wrecked, he couldn't even hardly bend over. And I got behind you, and I took some kind of lotion or laminate and I rubbed it all over your back. And that was gross but I did it.

Jeff: That wasn't even Morocco, that was [inaudible 00:11:20].

Erik : Whatever. All right. Point taken. But

Chris :, that was a beautiful part of the film. You have great friends, man. You must attribute a lot to them?

Chris : Norton: Oh, yeah. My friends, my family, obviously, Emily. But that's what I really love about the film is that it really highlights these people in my life that were so important to me and to where I'm at today. And I love that they get some love. Because a lot of times people will see me walking across the stage, me down the aisle, and they say, "Wow,

Chris :, look at all you've done." But I couldn't do it by myself, I needed all these different pieces and elements, all these talents, people. There's so many people that unfortunately didn't have a role in the film that were really important in my life. If we fit everybody that was really important, helped me get to where I am today, the film would have been 24 to 48 hours long, it would have gone on forever.

Chris : Norton: But yeah, my buddies though, what's really special about them is that they didn't have to have the perfect words, they have to come to my hospital room or help me out with words. It was just them showing up. Letting me know that I'm not alone, and they'll be there for me. And they showed that with their actions. And I felt like some people get scared or almost paralyzed because they don't know what to say. Like I don't know how I'm going to help

Chris : or inspire him. I'm not a nurse, I don't know any of these things. And so, they might not do anything. But what made these guys special is that they didn't care that they didn't know maybe what to do at first or what to say, but they wanted to be there. And I think that's how they really taught me a lot about being a good friend. And really just showing up for each other, that's the most important thing.

Erik : Yeah. You had such good allies. Now tell me more about the guy, I think he was in charge of rehab. Was that in Michigan maybe? But he was just like-

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:13:22].

Erik : ... "Yeah, you got it bro." Was that Hulk Hogan? He was like, "You can do it, never quit." I love that guy.

Chris : Norton: He's a master motivator. He just has this way of just like tapping into your soul I swear. Of just pulling out everything in you, which makes him really special.

Jeff: Well, but he also gave you some pretty significant props because sounds like he's very good at what he does. But you're an outlier, man. You've been told that a lot, and you are an outlier. And everybody captured that in the film from your friends, to your parents, to your coaches, to your PT folks, your rehab folks. You're the three-percenter, right? So I guess my question to you now would be, how do you take

Chris : Norton who's a three-percenter, and translate that over into the other 97% that maybe aren't wired just like you are? And I'm asking you that authentically. I don't want your motivational speaker pitch right now. I want to hear how would you tell me if I'm the 97% that... I don't want to hear like, "Just try. Go..." what is it? And where is that drive? Where does that live in you? How do I get it?

Chris : Norton: Yeah. Well, I think it kind of got instilled in me as a kid. And I really attribute it to my dad. My dad always coached me and everything. I can remember one moment in particular, I have a basketball tournament. And I had the worst weekend of basketball my life, I'm probably 10 years old. And I'm on my way home, and my dad's give me these look in rear view mirror, like come on, just mad at me, I'm mad at myself. And we get home, I kick my shoes off. I get to the couch, I'm just trying to distract myself, I'm just so beating myself, feeling so sorry for myself. Like let's just watch some TV, play some video games.

Chris : Norton: Well, eventually, my dad comes over and just like, "

Chris :, if you don't like where you're at, then do something about it." I don't know what it was, but these words just clicked. And it just made me reflect of like, "Why am I feeling sorry for myself when I'm not doing anything to change it?" I'm just sitting here complaining and whining about not being a good basketball player, instead of going out and becoming a better basketball player. And essentially, what I really attribute to is my dad helped instill me to be radically responsible for my life in all outcomes, good or bad. And I just feel like the more responsibility you accept in your life, the clearer you'll respond to adversity.

Chris : Norton: And so, when I got dealt the 3% news, I just felt inside me that it was up to me. It's my responsibility to get better. If I want a better future, I have to go get better. And I think that's what really, I feel like it comes down to it's just feeling responsible for my future, and not accepting blame and excuses. And just really trying to cut those things out, I think really helped set me up. So by the time my injury happened, I already had some of those lessons instilled in me,

Erik : Your dad's kind of a genius because if you look at, I don't know young people, I sound old like, "Young people today." But if-

Jeff: [crosstalk 00:17:06].

Erik : I know I am. I'm getting to see the gray. But you see kids that fall into this trap where they're like, I didn't make the varsity team. Coach's played favorites, or it's just life isn't fair. They're looking past me and my talents. You know what I mean? They miss diagnose, they don't own it, right? They wind up blaming, and then they wonder why they're where they are. And your dad is basically saying, "Don't second guess where you are, you know how to get out of that if you take that ownership." So I just think that's genius.

Chris : Norton: No, absolutely. And really, when you boil it down, it's like really the only thing we truly have control over is how you respond. And that's really what he helped me figure out is like it's up to my response, and how I move forward. There's so many things that you can't control. And if you focus on what you can't control, it will paralyze you from making the choices that you can control. And so, that's where I really try to put my energy, that is in my abilities and not my disability. Because your mind will go in the direction of your strongest spots. And so, I really tried to stay focused on what I can.

Erik : And before we roll too far along so your injury, was your spine severed or partially broken? What was the diagnosis?

Chris : Norton: So it was a not completely severed. At first they thought it was, but then I was able to get at least a little bit sensation back on my shoulder. So it was an incomplete C3, C4 fracture, and then a grade 4 dislocation, which is one of the most severe dislocations you can have. I believe, grade 5 might be the complete severed, if I remember.

Erik : Ann stating the obvious, you loved football, right? It just looked like in the beginning of the film, you loved football heart and soul, right?

Chris : Norton: Yeah, I still do actually.

Erik : You still do?

Chris : Norton: Yeah. I think it's a violent game, and I don't discourage people from playing football because of what happened to me. I think it's a freak accident. And you're more likely to have a spinal cord injury in a car accident, a fall, swimming or diving. But I think concussions are very scary. I think there's some things like that with the head injuries that worry me and I like it they're making changes to the game to make it safer. But I still enjoy watching it, although I don't enjoy seeing the hard hits anymore. I used to, but not anymore.

Erik : Yeah. Because you're a heavy hitter.

Jeff: I have a question for you though, man. You're not Normal, you're an outlier man. And that three-percenter also, I'm guessing that the incremental victories you had, the rewards that you saw from that time you saw you can move your big toe. And as it progressed upwards, you're a reward based guy I'm guessing, so am I, so is Erik. We like to see advancements, we like to see growth, was that also in conjunction with all the other little variables we're talking about that made this big part? Was it also you seeing progression that kept us doing one session in the morning? And like, "I'm not done yet today, I'm going for another because I know I can do this." Was that part of it?

Chris : Norton: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I've always had that growth mindset of I believe I can give better. But also, I was always intentional about pointing out the progress I was making, and making sure to acknowledge those small victories. But what was challenging is not allowing my mind to go into comparison, comparing myself to what I used to do. So I can remember one moment in particular, it's about two weeks in, I'm able to just curl my arm to my left shoulder. I'm just able to get it, and then my occupational therapist grabs a half pound arm curl weight. And she velcroed it around my wrist. I don't have any dexterity in my fingers. And so she tells me to try and I'm looking at this weight, it's 100 pounds like, "Oh my gosh, she's insane."

Chris : Norton: And so, I'm trying to lift it, my arm is shaking. And I was able to just get it, and I felt all this joy. And my parents were with me, they're all cheering and clapping for me. And then I think back to two weeks ago, in the weight room, and what I could curl. And in that moment, all the good, all the progress, everything I was feeling just got ripped away. And I was taking tears. And I just wanted to just throw in the towel right there and then like, "Why bother? I have so far to go. I'm celebrating a half pound arm curl. Are you kidding me?" There's a moment of just frustration, but it was so painful that you want to reflected on it.

Chris : Norton: It's just like, wow, I have to really look at my life from what, you could call ground zero. October 16, 2010, the day I got hurt. Where I was waking up after surgery, that person at that moment, I had to base all my progression of where I was at that. And I had to almost mourn, and say goodbye to what I was able to do before. And so, that's where I kept basically my progress from was day one versus where I was as a college athlete. And so, when I kept focused on those progressions, it kept me motivated and kept that feel to the fire. Plus when I started to hear people being inspired and motivated by my attitude and effort, and that they were going to use that attitude and effort to better their lives, I felt good. It gave me purpose to my pain, which also helped me to keep going.

Erik : Now you got to tell us though, what do you curling now?

Chris : Norton: Actually at one point I think my PR for post injury, I think was like 15 or 20 pounds. It's been a while since I've really tried to max out but-

Erik : So you went from a half a pound to now 15 pounds? That's huge.

Chris : Norton: Well, yeah. It makes it so I can take a water bottle, and lift it to my mouth. Or grab a hamburger, something like that, just feed myself like-

Erik : Well, that's if you're eating 15 pound hamburgers, maybe that's what you do down in Florida.

Chris : Norton: Yeah, exactly. Also in Iowa. In Iowa I was doing that.

Erik : In Iowa, sorry. That's where you hit the 15 pound hamburger, right.

Jeff: I think it's the same. [inaudible 00:24:30].

Erik : Right.

Jeff: I know that it has not all been happy. And even though your faith's pushed, you pulled you pushed you, there's not happy times. And I would ask you, in conjunction with your faith and your family the obvious answers, what do you lean on when things were at their darkest?

Chris : Norton: My happiness is really comes down to I really try to listen to myself, I do a lot of reflection. And I really try to listen to what's off, and what I could do better. And I really try to take accountability of what can I do to improve my situation? And I just try to listen to what's off because it's not like a one and done thing where you make a decision like, "I'm going to be happy. I'm going to be positive, or I'm going to work hard." These are decisions you got to make every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Like good hygiene, you don't just brush your teeth or shower once a week. You got to do the things that bring you joy, and follow your passion all the time. It's a spiritual hygiene.

Chris : Norton: And so, I feel like I'm just really good about being intentional to listening to myself, and really getting through what's going on. And then I cut out blame. I think blame, it's such a killer of motivation. And so, I really just try to take it into my own hands. And that means when I take things in my own hands that might mean I have to ask for help too. That gives me courage to seek out help when I need it. But I just really tried to do all that I can, to learn and to listen to myself.

Erik : And

Chris :, so in that spirit you had this goal to walk at graduation, and to walk along the stage, and you went off to Michigan, was there anything radical about that rehab that you went through? Can you paint a picture of some of the key things that you did that might be interesting for people to know?

Chris : Norton: I'd say what I liked about the rehab in Michigan, one was the atmosphere. So I went from, you can imagine being in a hospital, the therapist that you're working with they're dress clothes. A lot of them don't even want to get sweaty. There's no loud blaring music, it's not like a whole lot of intensity. Now, the therapist that I worked with, and I would get myself to work with are the ones that did push me and one of the most out of me. There's plenty of PTs, OTs that we're just cool with just chit chatting and just almost hanging out, let's stretch.

Chris : Norton: And I don't want to work with those people. I want to work with somebody that's going to push me. I want to be surrounded by pushy people because they help you break barriers, and to get outside your comfort zone. But what I liked about this spot was the facility that was in Michigan and they're also in Florida, is that it was loud, it was intense there, they all have sports backgrounds. They were well educated. And they would bark at you like my like school coach.

Erik : Like a football team. I get it now.

Chris : Norton: Yeah. It's a football team.

Erik : You got Hulk Hogan telling you to do another round [inaudible 00:28:10].

Chris : Norton: Yeah. Exactly. I want that. I know that I'm going to push myself, I want the best for myself, but you need somebody else there that can see maybe another level that you can't see in yourself. And that's what they really did for me, is they just helped me get to the next level. And that's really what Emily has done for me too. Emily is really good about pushing me. And that there were great.

Jeff: I'm not one to normally quote Bible verses, but there's a Philippians 4:6-7 is essentially says, "The peace that passes all understanding." And I've heard that. A friend of mine told me that when I was struggling with another friend that had died, and he just busted that out one day. We were walking down the trail and he says, "It's the peace that passes all understanding." And everything you said really encompasses that. It's like our feeble little minds, we can't really understand the process. But you just asked for like, "Can I just have a little view that it's going to be okay?" Because no matter what your faith is, no matter where or whatever realm it sits in, there's a lot of things that we just simply can't understand and can't grasp. And that we just need to have that deep seated faith, right? And process and who you are and what you can tap into.

Chris : Norton: Absolutely. I think that definitely captures what I was feeling. And really, the whole process for me of just really trying to find that peace with my faith because it was way beyond my understanding.

Erik : Isn't there a balancing act though

Chris : between this idea of peace and... You're this really intense guy and I feel like I'm a little bit in that part too. I always have to have a goal in front of me. That's what motivates me, right? So you have this huge goal to walk graduation, to walk up the aisle in your wedding. But then what happens post goal? That's a dangerous terrain because you can fall off a cliff, so it's a double edged sword in a way. So what comes after the huge, intense goal that you achieve? Is that the peace?

Chris : Norton: Well, I think I found that peace in between the wedding and the graduation walk. And what really motivated me, so after that graduation one walk, the video went viral. Over 300 million people watched that video, we got 1000s of messages, and did all these talk shows. Well, what it really showed me is my purpose. And it's like, you know what? God didn't want me to walk right away. He wanted to use me to inspire them, to give people hope who are feeling hopeless right now. And so, that really gave me peace with where I was at. And that was my goal.

Chris : Norton: And the 7 Yards walk was not for myself, not for Emily. Emily could care less if I walked her down the aisle, to be honest. I honestly didn't know if I wanted to put that pressure on myself to walk down the aisle. But it's like you know what? If this walk helps somebody else who's struggling with their own challenges, it's worth it, I'll take that on. And I can do that, no problem because you always can consider who's counting on you in your example. That really helped me keep going.

Chris : Norton: But post walk, my goals have transition to family and career. I love motivational keynote speaking. I love being on stage, I love connecting with people, and sharing my life experiences using tools and steps that I've used so they can use. I love that. And so, that's really been my goal to grow that, my non-profit. That's what I'm really enjoying right now. Happiness it's not measured in steps. That's a thing that people really get caught up on with me. They see me in a wheelchair, and they're just like, "Oh, I'm so sorry, for you." They just automatically assume that I'm miserable and I'm unhappy. I know people who can run, jumping and swim who are unhappy. So clearly happiness has nothing to do with your physical abilities, and everything to do with your mindset. And so, that's what really gives me a positive attitude is just having that perspective. And-

Erik : Yeah.

Chris : Norton: I know I'm-

Erik : I'm laughing

Chris : because I think your kids have come home because I hear your dog barking.

Chris : Norton: Yeah. My dog is greeting them right now for the park.

Erik : So transition over to how many, so much, but how many kids do you have? Tell us about how that became such an important part of your life? Looks like Emily really influenced you in terms of wanting foster kids and wanting to adopt?

Chris : Norton: Oh, yeah. Emily-

Jeff: I love how Erik introed that. He goes, "Let's talk about, so much."

Erik : It's a lot man.

Jeff: It's a lot so please, yes tell us.

Erik : No. Honestly, I'm being straight up. Walking across the stage is unbelievable, but being the dad, I don't know, what is it? Six kids is way more impressive to me. That's so much more difficult. And then obviously, I think even more fulfilling in certain ways.

Chris : Norton: It's extremely fulfilling. But yeah, Emily completely influenced the foster care, the adoption. To be honest I grew up in a bubble, small town, Iowa. And I had very great parents. And so, I had no idea about the foster care system, group homes and all those kinds of things that are going on in every city. Kids being abused, they don't feel loved or special. And Emily just growing up she just had a heart for people who were maybe a little different, or who acted out with different behaviors or just looked like they needed some help, or they needed some love. And she wanted to be there to mentor them. And so, that's how she got introduced to the foster care system.

Chris : Norton: When she first started talking with Whittley, and Whittley was a young girl at the time. Emily mentored her and then later on, we started to foster her when she needed help. And then we would eventually adopt Whittley when she was 19 years old. So we adopted adult, but Emily just gave me the confidence to belief in myself that I could be a good dad. I questioned it like, "I don't know if I'm ready. I'm pretty young. What can I do as far as a dad being in a wheelchair?" There was a lot of things I'd be limited to. Emily here to-

Erik : For most that'd be a huge fear, what know what I mean? It was for me even becoming a dad. Like, "Oh, my God, look at all the things I won't be able to do, right?" So that must have been pretty monumental transition to get through that.

Chris : Norton: It was. But Emily she gave me confidence, she knew what I was capable of. And she really just emphasized, "These kids they just need love, they need to be felt that they're special, give them a safe home. And just kind of let the rest take care of itself." And that's really what we did. And it's been amazing to welcome these kids into our home. They're scared, they're lost, they're trying to figure out who they are, and if they're worth anything. And so, to give them the love, and just the validation that they're worth it, is really amazing to see, and just to see their growth. It's the best thing that we've ever done.

Erik : Tell us a little bit about them. And don't use their names or anything, but just tell us a little bit how all these kids came into your life, this process.

Chris : Norton: Yeah. So the first one, Whittley like I mentioned, she was 17 years old. Emily and I were 23 and 24, living in a little apartment in Florida. And she called Emily and was like, "Hey, no one wants me. I don't have a home to go to. I don't know what I'm going to do. They're talking about putting me in juvenile detention just waiting until I age out the system, will please help me?" And so, we talked about it, and we had a lot of fears about maybe we should say no, are we ready? But we thought about what could happen if we did say no? What could happen to her life? And so, we said yes. And so, that opened the door to our foster care journey.

Chris : Norton: And then once she graduated high school, which she graduated on time, which is a huge accomplishment, we're really proud of her. She moved out and then we opened our door up and then Emily was like, "Hey, we got a call for two kids." Two young kids, a three month old, a three year old. And I'm like, "Whoa, two kids? That's crazy, that's a lot. We can't get two kids. What are you thinking?" She's like, "No, we can do it." And she's very persuasive, so then we did two. And then the three, and then the four. And then it just kept growing. And then one day we're on the beach, and we get a call about for four girls. It was a one year old, a four year old, six year old and an eight year old.

Erik : Were they all sisters?

Chris : Norton: They're all sisters.

Erik : Wow!

Chris : Norton: And they were looking to see if we could take a couple of them. They didn't expect that we could take all four of them. And I was like, "We got to take them all. We can't split these girls up. They just lost their grandpa who was their guardian, and then their mom, the previous year died. We got to get them all." And it's like, "Okay." So we had to go get a bigger used vehicle, bunk beds, got a bunch of girls clothes. And we welcomed them the day after

Chris :tmas and gave them a big

Chris :tmas. Santa came and visited late for them. That was how we got our four girls.

Chris : Norton: And then eventually we adopted Whittley, we adopted those four girls, and we continue to foster. And right now, we're co parenting a seven year old. So we used to foster him, but now we're just helping out the family, he's not in the system or anything. But we're just going to help him out in school here. And then we're also fostering a two year old right now that we're actually hoping to adopt, it's a little boy. So I have a little guy in the house finally.

Jeff: I'm so tired right now just thinking, "Oh, my god." I've got one kid who just walked down the lacrosse practice, and he is a boatload of challenges, issues, fun and everything but man more power to you. You must be slamming Red Bulls, bro. You sponsored by Red Bull?

Chris : Norton: Actually, fun fact. I drink one coffee a day because these kids, there's so much going on I feel like this is not, in fact, I don't need caffeine. I just-

Erik : You got a little Red Bulls running around.

Chris : Norton: Exactly.

Jeff: Yeah. They give you wings.

Chris : Norton: Exactly.

Erik : I'm not giving anything away, but at the end of the film, it's another favorite part for me. And that is your wife sending you out to get some milk or something for the family. And you're just put to work, it's so great. And stories have this hero's journey where the hero comes home and transitions back. And I felt like that was so perfect the way you did it. You're this hard charging guy, you love football. And if you think about, I don't know, our identity and who we feel we are, and what's important, our values on a barrel. And then perhaps that barrel gets dumped out, everything gets dumped out, or maybe not everything, but a lot of it, you got to replace it with something. And it seems like you've replaced it with service, love and these things that totally keep your barrel full, right? It seems like you've transitioned, and matured in this really unexpected way.

Chris : Norton: Oh, absolutely. When I was 18 years old, I thought athletics and physical ability was everything. That's where my identity was, as an athlete. And so, when taken away from me it was like, "Whoa, who am I? Will my friends want to be friends with me? Who's going to like me because I was struggling like myself." But then as I live life, and I've been around people I saw that they didn't care about the athlete, or how fast I ran. They care about who I was as a person, and how I made them feel and love that you give and receive, the service to others. And that's when I really began to realize like, "Wow, that's so much more important than what I thought." And so, that's where again, I just fill my barrel up is in service. And serving others gives me so much passion and joy. And that's exactly how I want to live our life is to know at the end of the day when we go up to heaven, that we gave everything we had to living our best life in service of others.

Erik : That's a lesson for anyone. You don't have to have any kind of disability or challenge, that's every human being.

Jeff: Yeah. But it gets lost though. So I think that there's another three-percenter right there. Is as soon as you take yourself out of the equation, and you realize that the identity that you perhaps have of yourself, isn't the best version of yourself, right? There's something that's deeper there that it's almost impossible for you to see until you have a hard stop event that really requires you... You had a mandate

Chris : like, "Yeah. This is it. We're going to stop here, and we're going to reinvent who you are, and take away that previous identity and turn you into something new." And that was something that happened to you that now I would probably say, you'd probably admit it was a gift to a certain extent. And I think that a lot of folks could use a gift to be able to get figuratively punched in the face and say, whoa, whoa, whoa, quit smelling your own exhaust, and let's reflect back, yeah? What do you have to say to that?

Erik : What do you got to say to that?

Chris : Norton: Life's lowest moments can be the source of our greatest gifts. Every low moment, every pain point has been such a teaching moment for me. And paining and that suffering, we can teach you so much about life and who you are. And it certainly has taught me a ton. And so, I try to do my best to capture all that, and really process so I can share it. So I can eloquently share that 3% mentality that you talk about. But no, it's definitely something that I'm really trying to be reflective of all those moments. And I'm really thankful for those pain points because not only has it taught me a lot about life, but I try to share it with others.

Erik : Well

Chris : in that spirit, tell us about the

Chris : Norton Foundation and the

Chris : Norton Wheelchair Camp, and all the great outreach that you're doing besides with your kids and your family.

Chris : Norton: Yeah. So when I was in college I started the

Chris : Norton Foundation. Basically, I was seeing too many people in situations like mine, in a wheelchair that didn't have the resources. I was able to have the resources because in an NCAA sporting event, they have a catastrophic insurance policy through Mutual of Omaha that basically covers all of my metal medical expenses. Pretty much anything to do with my injury, they'll help cover the costs. Insurances don't do that for most people, or everybody else who doesn't have an injury playing a collegiate sport.

Chris : Norton: And so, I wanted to give back, and my family did too. So we raised funds to give rehab equipment to facilities that didn't have it, so that people can have options to recover and be healthy. And then as time went on I realized a lot of people have this thought when you're in a wheelchair, have a disability that you can't do any fun. You can't have fun, there's some things you're not able to do. Well, we started an adaptive wheelchair camp called the

Chris : Norton Foundation Wheelchair Camp. And it's a free camp for kids with fiscal challenges, young adults, and their families to come out to zip line, horseback ride, we do laser tag, and just a bunch of other camp activities. And we have that every year, and it's a ton of fun. It's arguably probably one of my favorite things I get to do every year to have this camp.

Erik : The film was quite a love story too, you and Emily. Do you pinch yourself? You seem like you scored

Chris :.

Chris : Norton: Oh, yeah. When I first met Emily, I remember being like, my face was just like, I pick it up. I'm like, "All right,

Chris :, keep it together. Acting awkward, she's way out of my league." And just she was so mature for her age and had such strong morals and values. And her conviction to just do what's right, and to do whatever it takes for the people she loves, it's really inspiring. And so-

Jeff: Listen, you're the star of the film, but she might be nudging you over as the star of the film dude because that woman has a presence to her. You clearly out kicked your coverage on that.

Chris : Norton: 100% I did. If they had more time that film, which they wanted more time, and they wanted more Emily. It would have been the Emily Norton Show.

Jeff: Behind every strong man is a stronger woman, we know that.

Chris : Norton: Right.

Erik : Yeah. And

Chris :, I know Jeff already said this, and we've already talked about this too. But just to wrap it up, it is a beautiful testament to faith because it's like you have all this uncertainty in front of you, all these worry, you're asking for signs. And then just slowly with your own determination combined with it, the pieces, the cards just all start falling into place. And so, those cards I imagine in your life are still falling into place, right? There's still tons of mystery and adventure in front of you?

Chris : Norton: I agree. And it's important to just keep going even if you don't know where you're going. So that was the thing for me is like, "What am I doing? It's all this time and effort, is it ever going to pay off? This is just a waste of time?" And I think a lot of people ask themselves that, Why bother? When life knocks you down, should I just stay down here? Is it really worth picking myself back up?

Chris : Norton: And I really hope through my story, and my life experiences and me having this faith and this determination, just while just keep going. And you just never know what's going to happen when you just keep taking one step in front of the other. That's why I really try to share the story as much as I can because I can see people get that when they're feeling lost. And I know what it's like to feel lost. And especially encourage people out there just don't give up. You just don't know what your life holds and the possibilities. You don't give up.

Erik : Well said. Thank you

Chris :. Yeah. Well, tell us how people can get in touch with you for speaking, for the Wheelchair Camp, to connect with your foundation, all that kind of stuff.

Jeff: And mention the movie please too just in its entirety.

Chris : Norton: Absolutely. So go to

Chris :norton.org. And that's where you can find 7 Yards the film, where you can get it on Netflix and run it on Apple TV or Amazon Prime. My motivational speaking is on there, the foundation, but that's the one stop place I can get on my newsletter. And then social media wise, I'm @

Chris :anorton16, most active on Instagram and Facebook. But now I love to connect with people, and appreciate you guys sharing my story here.

Jeff: Well, hey, sorry not sorry for call on you three-percenter. And I think that you own it. And honestly, if there's anything that I think about when I see you, and share you with my son, my wife, it's that that 3% is achievable. Even though you appear like a superhuman, you're just a man.

Chris : Norton: Yeah.

Jeff: You're just a man you happen to be a three-percenter, but you're a man and we could all be the 3% if we embrace in

Chris : Norton.

Erik : Nice. Jeff used to be 3% body fat that is, now he's more like 18-

Jeff: Now I'm 97%.

Erik : Now he's 97%-

Jeff: Yeah. I'm the other 97.

Erik : All right.

Chris : thank you so much. Thank you, Jeff.

Jeff: Thanks brother

Chris :. See you next time.

Erik : Yeah. Thank you guys.

Jeff: Thanks

Chris :. No barriers to everyone. We would like to thank our generous sponsors that make our No Barriers podcast possible. Wells Fargo, Prudential, CoBank, Aero Electronics and Winnebago. Thank you so much for your support, it means everything to us. The production team behind this podcast includes senior producer Pauline Shaffer, sound design, editing and mixing by Tyler Cottman and marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie Dinardo, Erica Howey, and Alex Schaffer. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan band for intro song, Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening. If you enjoy this podcast, we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.


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