Six years after an unforgettable day on a football field in Iowa, a brave young man was able to stand and collect his diploma from Luther College. Chris Norton insists he is just an average guy, born and raised in a small town in the American Midwest, but this man's incredible story is far from average.
Norton's graduation video has been shared by millions around the world. Hundreds and thousands have taken inspiration from his miraculous journey that began in 2010 when a debilitating spinal cord injury left him with a three percent chance to regain feeling below his neck.
"I was determined to do whatever it takes to beat it. You can take away my physical ability but you can't take away my attitude and my effort. I was determined to beat the odds." Chris told TheSPORTbible.
As an 18-year-old freshman with big hopes and dreams, Norton was in the shape of his life coming into this incredibly emotional and vivid day in October, 2010, but things were about to take a turn for the worst.
Nothing was the same after an unforgettable day in Iowa:
"I remember everything like it was yesterday." Chris told TheSPORTbible. "It was during a football game at Luther College. It was a beautiful fall day with with only a few clouds in sky and the leaves on the trees were all turning different colors It was our 5th game of the season and I was playing on all of the different kickoff and punting teams.
"We scored a touchdown in the third quarter which meant it was time for us to kick the ball off to the other team. I ran onto to the field for the last time. We kicked the ball off and it was kicked short and to my side of the field.
"I sprinted down field as hard as I could to make the tackle. I anticipated where he is running to a and I dove at the ball carrier's legs. However, I mistimed my jump by a split second. Instead of getting my head in front of the ball carrier, my head collided right with his legs."
"As a result, I suffered a severe spinal cord injury. And in a blink of an eye, I lost all feeling and movement from my neck down. I tried to get up but I couldn't. The power in my body just went out, like you have probably experienced the feeling when an electrical storm knocks out all your lights in a single moment."
"I didn't think anything of it at the time, I figured my power would come back but nothing was happening. I naively thought that I was invincible and that bad things happen to other people that you hear about on TV or in the newspaper, or to motivational speakers.
"The trainers ran out to see what was going on. They asked if I could make a fist with my hand, I tried but I couldn't. They asked if I could feel them touching my leg but I couldn't.
"Nothing was happening. I couldn't feel or move anything. I knew it was serious when the EMTS had to call in for a helicopter to fly me to the hospital."
"They got me on a stretcher and wheeled me across the field to the ambulance. If you have been to a sporting event, what does the crowd do when the injured athlete is helped off the field? Yes, they clap. Then the athlete always gestures back with a thumbs up. Well I wanted to give a thumbs up but I couldn't and it served as another reminder of how serious my situation was... "
Chris was immediately rushed to hospital. Imagine the scene - at the age of 18, this fragile life flashes before your eyes. You lay still, in hope.
It's a scary thought. He went straight through to the operation theater, but when he woke up on October 17th, the 18-year-old's life was about to drastically change after the surgeons told him about his chances of movement:
"I had surgery and when I woke up. My life was flipped upside down. My first conversation was with my surgeon and he said I had a 3% chance to ever move anything below my neck. Honestly the odds went in one ear and out the other.
"I was determined to do what takes to beat it. You can take away my physical ability but you can't take away my attitude and my effort. I was determined to beat the odds."
"My goal was to walk. When I focused too much on the outcome I would overwhelm myself thinking about how far I had to go. But instead I concentrated on what can I do today. Before I went to sleep at night I would reflect on my day and ask myself did I give a full effort? If you can answer yes to that question every single night then your future will take care of itself.
"I stopped worrying about where I would be at in my recovery because I will know in my heart I gave it my all and will have no regrets.
"In life that is really all you can ask for, did you give it your all? Can you look back and have no regrets. you can be proud no matter the outcome because you know you gave it everything you had and you had nothing else to give." Chris told us.
His chances of walking were slim and the majority would have given up at this point, but Chris had hope - hope that one day he would walk again and prove the surgeon wrong:
"What gave me hope was believing I could create a purpose from my injury. I knew I could create something positive even when I had no Idea what good could come from my injury. When you continuously have a good attitude, give a full effort, try new things, a purpose will be made. It's easy to feel like a victim when facing adversity, but I challenge you to create a purpose from it."
"I am thankful that years after my injury I have created my purpose which is to inspire as many people as possible. My purpose has motivated me to walk across the stage of graduation, to start my own nonprofit to help others with disabilities, write a book with my dad that has sold thousands of copies across the world, and become a motivational speaker.
"I can honestly tell you that if I could go back to change that play I wouldn't do it. Because I created a purpose that's worth living for."
While going through rehabilitation, Chris met the love of his life three years ago.
Emily, who featured in the graduation video that went viral recently, shares the same attitude as her husband and eventually wants to pursue a career in motivational speaking.
Chris explained how important Emily played a huge part in his incredible journey:
"Emily has been extremely important in my life. She helps me train, picks me up when I'm down, inspires me to be my best self, and doesn't view me as any less of a man because I'm in a wheelchair.
"I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for her. I'm so thankful to have her in my life. In preparation for my graduation walk, she would take me to my training every single day and walk with me every single night.
Years after the accident, Chris decided to influence others by starting a non profit organisation to those with disabilities.
He has inspired millions as a motivational speaker, helping groups and organizations to remove barriers to reach their full potential. Chris has spoken to audiences that range from a small classroom to 12,000 people in a stadium and his passion for his work is clear.
On his official website, the 24-year-old's quote about life and it's often difficult lessons engraved a really powerful message. He says that we all face adversity, no matter how big or how small, no matter who you are or where you come from. Life will knock us down at times but that's not what's important... What is important is whether or not we will stand back up.
Speaking to Chris, you can sense his remarkable determination to overcome adversities:
"I want to share with everyone how I was able to go from a 3% chance to walking the stage of my graduation. And What got me to get to that point and something that we all have inside us is what I call The Power to Stand."
"The Power to Stand is not merely the physical ability to stand but the Power we have to Stand to Up to our adversity, to Stand Up to our fears & self doubt. To Stand Up for what we believe in. We all face adversity but no one should be defined by their adversityTo spread hope. Everyone is capable of greatness, anyone can overcome their adversity, fear, self doubt, circumstance, or navigate change."
The way Chris has picked himself up and recovered from this potentially life threatening injury continues to leave me speechless.
"I am a happy go lucky person who loves sports and competing. I've always been driven to be my best self despite school and sports not being easy for me. Chris told TheSPORTbible.
"My upbringing taught me at an early age that you have to work hard for the things you want in life. Life isn't about your circumstances, it's about your responses to your circumstances and to your adversity."
Thank you for telling us your story, Chris. Hopefully your message will continue to change people's lives.
If you want to read Chris' story in full, his book 'The Power of Faith When Tragedy Strikes: A Father-Son Memoir' is available on Amazon here.