Not even a life-changing accident could stop Chris Norton from partaking in his walk down the aisle with his new wife. The paralyzed groom, who has been wheelchair-bound for the past seven years, defied the odds and, with help from his bride, made the seven-yard trek as a newly married man.
In October 2010, as a freshman at Luther College in Iowa, Norton took to the football field during a game against Central College. One mistake during a common play later, and the college athlete was faced with a spinal injury. Doctors discovered that the then 18-year-old fractured his C3-C4 vertebrae. The chances of regaining feeling in his lower body—or walking, for that matter—were about three percent.
"I wasn’t going to accept that," Norton told People. "I was going to be part of that three percent."
With a little bit of perseverance and a lot of rehabilitation, Norton returned to Luther College the following August. Two years later in 2013, after a series of unsuccessful dates, Norton took the plunge and turned to online dating as he grew eager to settle down. As fate would have it, this brought him to his future bride, Emily Summers.
"I was waiting for that girl who made me feel alive and someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, and then here comes Emily," said Norton. "I knew she was the one."
Summers, who also attended college at Iowa State University, came from a close Catholic family, just like Norton, and paid little mind to his condition. "I was extremely drawn to him and his story, and how he wasn’t just going to give up," said Summers. "That’s how we first connected."
The couple garnered a bit of Internet fame in 2015, when a video of Summers and Norton walking across the stage at graduation went viral. Norton had proposed the night before, then checked another accomplishment off his list as Summers helped him put one foot in front of the other to receive his diploma.
Fast forward three years and Norton was ready to tackle his next milestone: walking down the aisle with his new wife. The pair said "I do" during a beautiful outdoor ceremony on April 21 in Jupiter, Florida, in front of about 200 guests. Just as during Norton's graduation, Summers helped lift him out of his wheelchair to a standing position, and the pair shared their first kiss as a married couple. Then, with Norton leaning on his bride for support, they miraculously took their first steps down the aisle as husband and wife. Friends and family applauded the newlyweds once they successfully walked all seven yards.
It took plenty of training to make it to this stage, but it's an achievement that doctors predicted this paralyzed groom might never have. "There have been a lot of moments where we’ve struggled," said Norton. "But anything is possible if we don’t give up. We want to be an example that life can be remarkable. I’m so blessed and happy with where I am."
The pair's love story and ambitious goal of walking down the aisle also caught the attention of an organization called Fotolanthropy, which highlights success stories of people who have overcome odds. The nonprofit is currently in the works of producing 7 Yards, a documentary based on Norton's life. Fotolanthropy is about $250,000 short of completing the film, but they gave Norton and Summers the ultimate wedding gift by helping to provide photography, videography, flowers, and decor for the ceremony.
Despite his accident, Norton's life now seems to have plenty of silver linings. "The accident brought me to [Emily], and that is the biggest blessing," he said.