Wellbeing

‘7 Yards’ at Length: 3 Questions With Chris Norton

A documentary based on the life of CaringBridge user Chris Norton, whose walk across the stage at college graduation in 2015, after a spinal cord injury, inspired millions, began streaming in February 2021 on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.

7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story,” re-creates the football tackle in Decorah, Iowa, that changed the future of an 18-year-old athlete, and also honors the distance Chris walked five years later, against all odds, to accept his diploma. A video of Chris’ amazing walk with Emily, now his wife, has been viewed more than 300 million times on social media.

Chris and Emily are today the adoptive parents of five daughters, after fostering 18 children. They are also co-authors of the book, “The 7 Longest Yards: Our Love Story.”

Here, Chris answers three questions about his path toward healing, the power of community and appreciating family caregivers.

1. “Seven Yards,” both the 2021 documentary and the 2019 book written by you and Emily, show that you have found healing, even in the absence of complete physical recovery. But over the years at CaringBridge, we have heard “healing” described in so many different ways. What does it look like to you?

When you take the focus off of yourself to help someone else is when healing comes. Healing slowly came to me when I started to see how my example of grit and determination started to rub off on other people.

Plus, I started the Chris Norton Foundation to help others with neurological challenges. We created a kids wheelchair camp that is a ton of fun and rewarding. When you can see your pain being used for a greater purpose, you feel fulfillment.

That’s why I have so much joy in sharing my story through my motivational speaking, books, nonprofit, and now my documentary film, “7 Yards.”

2. You’ve said the love and support you felt through CaringBridge after your football injury in 2010 helped you find purpose and hope during the worst period of your life. (And that was before 300 million people watched the graduation-walk video!) As someone who has truly experienced the power of community, what advice might you have for people who want to help and show support, but aren’t sure “what to say” or “what to do?”

It’s never about what you say, it’s about showing you are there for them. I loved it when people visited me, called me, or wrote to me. These acts showed they cared about me and were there for me.

I’ll never forget the people who constantly showed up for me. When I was in the hospital, my Dad would read CaringBridge messages and they gave me so much encouragement.

Although some couldn’t visit, at least I knew people were rooting for me. Because of their messages, I felt like I couldn’t give up on them, even when at times I felt like giving up on myself.

3. Your relationship with Emily has so many facets: college sweethearts, husband and wife, co-authors, parents and also “patient” and “caregiver.” What we see at CaringBridge, though, is people don’t describe themselves that way. Even though you may need more physical help from Emily, how do you work to make sure you are both taking care of each other?

Emily wears lots of hats, and for our relationship to thrive it’s making sure you are doing things that feed and grow the relationship.

It’s a balancing act when there are so many responsibilities. It’s about understanding how your partner feels loved. Making sure you are communicating how you feel and not letting things fester.

I try to delegate as much responsibility off of Emily as possible. We really push our kids to be independent and to do things on their own. Our kids also help me out a lot, too, like filling my water bottle, getting my plate of food, or grabbing things I can’t reach.

For me, I try to acknowledge and give thanks for everything Emily does, big or small. I always want her, or anyone, to feel that I appreciate their help and don’t take it for granted. It feels good to be seen and appreciated.

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