After being paralyzed for seven years, Chris Norton walked down the aisle with Emily, and the emotional moment he crossed the seven-yard distance captured the hearts of people across the globe.
In his recent book The Seven Longest Yards, Chris and his wife Emily share the bumpy ride they went through starting from Chris’ spinal injury to a happily married life with 5 adopted kids.
“Everyone saw our highlight-reel moments,” Chris told People. “We want to show people how we got there.”
In October 2010, when Chris was just 18, he got a portion of his spine fractured during a football game.
Doctors gave him the grim news that his chances of ever being able to move anything below neck were very thin. And by very thin, they meant just a slim 3%.
Proving their predictions wrong, Chris walked at his college graduation and then at his marriage – both times with the support of Emily.
Chris and Emily are now living a happily married life, raising their 5 adopted daughters, aged 3 to 20.
“They just bring so much energy to our lives — there’s never a dull moment, we’ve been out in public, and people will just stop us and ask us, ‘Are these your kids? Please tell me these aren’t your kids,” Chris said.
The first of the children they adopted is Whittley. Aged 20, she is just around 7 years younger than her foster dad.
Whittley has an old bond with the Nortons. When Emily was in high school, she mentored Whittley, and later the couple adopted her in December as an adult.
Odd situations do come up when you have such a little age difference with your parents. Once Whittley needed to be picked up from school when she was sick and the nurse told Chris that high school students can’t sign out other high schoolers.
“Oh, no. That’s my dad,” Whittley said, defending her dad.
The other four daughters the couple adopted this February are biological siblings. They are Ava, 10, Liliana, 8, Isabella, 6, and Ariana, 3.
“We were able to grow our family this year, which was really special, and make it just official that they are our daughters forever,” Emily told People.
“It’s been an absolute joy to be able to be there for these kids, through hard times, through good times.”
“We went into it thinking that we would be the blessing to these kids, but they’re the blessing to us,” Chris added.
Chris and Emily are happy that their daughters help them in giving back to society.
For instance, when the Chris Norton Foundation arranged a wheelchair camp for 25 kids with spinal injuries this June, the four elder Norton girls acted as counselors in the training.
At the event, Chris said: “There were things about being a dad that I really wanted to do.
“I always wanted to be the dad that can throw my kids around in the pool or play catch, I just focus on what I can do as a dad. … I just cannot let my physical paralysis paralyze my mindset.”
Emily had also undergone her share of struggles, in the domain of mental health.
“Right after the graduation walk [in May 2015], I actually went into a dark depression and struggled with anxiety, I was in such a low place, a place I had never been in,” she said.
The depression had a negative impact on the couple’s relationship.
“For a long time I buried everything I was feeling down on the inside and it just came out in anger, It was really hard for our relationship, and just for me, the darkness I was in,” she said.
On the other hand, Chris “felt like I was failing at my job, that I wasn’t doing enough, that I was to blame.”
“Seeing someone that you love so much and that’s the love of your life suffer that much, and to be that angry and that alone and depressed, you want them to know that they aren’t alone,” he continued.
Emily said she recovered by getting back to church and seeking medical attention.
“You can feel better and life can feel better, regardless of what you are going through,” she said.
Tim Tebow, who wrote the foreword of Chris’ book, notes that there could be no “better examples of parents that live out faith and determination every day” than Chris and Emily.
Summing up the essence of his life story, Chris said: “We want other people to find the courage in themselves, through our example, to keep pushing the limits and leaning on each other.”