"All those emotions that I felt 10 years earlier came flooding back," Chris Norton says of reliving the moment his life changed forever

By Joelle Goldstein
March 08, 2021 06:43 PM
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Chris Norton is continuing to inspire others.

The former college football player, who was left paralyzed after a game accident and later went on to walk at his graduation and wedding, is now reliving his journey in the new film, 7 Yards.

Named after how far Chris walked on his wedding day beside his wife Emily Summers Norton, the documentary explores his life-changing accident and how Chris' resilience helped him overcome the odds.

"I'm really thankful that back when I was 18 years old, I had some stubbornness where I was not going to be told no, no matter what anybody told me," Chris tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!) on Feb. 26's episode.

"In fact, I had a doctor tell me, 'Chris, you're not going to move anything in your legs ever again,'" he adds. "And thankfully I had the audacity to be like, 'No, I am going to move something.'"

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Chris and Emily Norton
| Credit: Sarah Kate, Photographer

While making the film, which premiered in February, Chris says he was adamant about reenacting his experiences, despite it being emotionally difficult at times.

"Going into the reenactment, I'm thinking 'I'll be fine. This is not a big deal. I'm a motivational speaker, keynote speaker. I share my story thousands of times; I can do this,'" he recalls.

"But then I get on the shoulder pads for the first time and the helmet since I was injured, and then I'm laid on the exact same spot on the same field where I was injured, and all those emotions that I felt 10 years earlier came flooding back," he continues.

"It was just so raw and real, thinking about my future at that moment of, 'What will my life look like? Will I ever be happy? Will I ever meet a girl that would want to be with me?'" Chris goes on. "I know how the story ends, so I had peace in that, but it was kind of this wrestling match of these emotions that just came back from being in that situation."

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Emily Summers, Chris Norton and one of their foster children in Port St. Lucie, Florida

The film also features real footage from his 2018 wedding, in which he and Emily shared that emotional — and now-viral — seven-yard walk down the aisle.

"Four yards was how far I walked for the graduation, and then we figured let's push it. Plus we wanted Emily to be at my side, which made it even harder," Chris explains. "But then it'd also be seven years since my injury. So seven years, seven yards. And it just felt right."

"Leading up to the wedding is when we started filming for 7 Yards, and before the wedding, they've already named the movie and I couldn't even walk seven yards," he continues. "So as you can imagine, I was pretty nervous because the movie can't be called 5.5 Yards or 6. It's seven already, so I've got to get there."

Adds Emily: "It was just an amazing thing. We did that just to help others know no matter what you go through, no matter how hard times are, you can get through it. And we wanted Chris's story with his injury and that tragedy to be that example for other people to keep fighting and to know there's hope."

In the time since that day, Chris and Emily have become foster and adoptive parents to seven children.

"They're incredible. They bring so much joy and energy to every single moment, every single day," he says. "This is the best thing that we've ever done."

Chris has also been busy promoting his documentary, doing speaking engagements and leading his nonprofit organization, The Chris Norton Foundation.

The organization, which has raised close to $1 million, helps people with spinal cord and neuromuscular disabilities by providing opportunities they wouldn't normally have, according to Chris' website.

"I'm always focused on what I can do. I have a laundry list of things I can't do physically, but I don't focus on that," Chris notes. "I always keep my mind on the things that I can do and what are possible, and that fills me up."

As he continues to share his story and inspire others, Emily says she couldn't be prouder of her husband.

"This documentary wouldn't have been made without Chris," she explains. "He is the reason that it exists in the first place because he was given a really hard at hand dealt to him, and he decided to do something with that, not only for himself, but the people around them."

"That's what makes it so special... he just kept going, kept taking one step at a time, even when he felt like giving up, even when he felt like he couldn't keep doing it, or it was overwhelming," she adds. "When he couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, he just kept going and there was the light and he got through it."

7 Yards is now available on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.

Catch People (the TV show!) Monday through Friday. Check your local listings for exact times or stream the show every day at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT at People.com and PeopleTV.com.