Wedding walk was 'seven years in the making,' Chris Norton tells GMA audience
Chris Norton and Emily Summers' wedding day went by so fast, it felt like a dream.
"We're just kind of trying to absorb it all in," Norton, 26, told the Des Moines Register in the days following the wedding.
The Iowa couple's story has been followed locally and nationally since October 2010, when Norton, an Altoona native, suffered a severe spinal cord injury while playing football at Luther College. Doctors gave him just 3 percent chance of moving below the neck again.
But through years of triumphs and tribulations, the pair continued to showcase their faith, love and strength to millions of onlookers.
Saturday at their ceremony in Jupiter, Florida, was no different, as the newlyweds conquered their latest challenge: A 7-yard walk down the aisle.
Norton and Summers appeared on "Good Morning America" Friday morning, sharing the story behind the walk with Robin Roberts.
"So much went into that walk," Norton said. "It was seven years in the making. Seven years of sacrifices and hard work."
Norton called his wife "Wonderwoman without the cape" and GMA showed footage of the couple training together for the big walk.
"We did it together, as a team, as a couple and to know I'm going to have her by my side forever ... its just unbelievable just knowing how far I've come and the work that it took to make that moment happen," Norton told Roberts.
Walking down the aisle with Summers, 25, of Muscatine, was a vow Norton made years ago. The two practiced nightly for months. At first, Norton struggled. But Summers kept motivating him.
"A big part for me was just really aligning ourselves and our minds as to why we are
doing this in the first place and why we are doing this together," she said. "I spent a lot of time in prayer. Chris did, too."
They'd walk a few steps to their bed, Summers explained to the Register, then pushed the length from a nearby hallway to their bedroom. In time, they were walking all around the house during the last couple of weeks before the wedding, Summers said.
The wedding wasn't the first the time couple worked together to take important steps. At Norton's graduation from Luther College in 2015, he rose from his wheelchair and walked across the stage to receive his college degree. Summers stood in front as Norton put some of his weight on her extended arms.
Video of that inspirational moment has been viewed 715,000 people and counting. After that feat, the newly engaged couple also appeared on GMA where Norton told Roberts his future plans included "walking down the aisle with Emily."
Ahead of the graduation walk, Summers said she had "so many fears," but that wasn't the case at their wedding.
"We just really wanted to reach people and to really try to share hope. That's what really made it easy for us," Summers said. "I have so much peace. I thought I would be terrified leading up to the walk, but there was never a moment where I was nervous or anxious about it."
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In the days before their next big walk, Norton said he'd wear a blindfold when Summers wore her gown during practices.
"Just to make sure the dress wouldn't interfere with the walk," Norton said.
Norton felt confident, putting in the time necessary to accomplish his promise. He even started to hit his 7-yard mark — to acknowledge the seven years since Norton was injured — comfortably a week prior to their wedding.
"That's when I knew I got it," he said.
When the day finally came, Norton remained in a cold environment so his body would remain fresh for the task; he explained how his body can fatigue quickly and want to make sure his body was at 100 percent.
After Norton and Summers sealed their marriage with a kiss, she lifted him up from his wheelchair. There they went, side by side, down the aisle for 7 yards surrounded by family, friends, trainers and nearly 200 others who played a role in these Iowans' lives.
Just like they had practiced.
"To walk down the aisle surrounded by my family and friends and Emily, that's
just a significant moment," Norton said. "It was a celebration of how far Emily and I have come and everybody who sacrificed and gave something to make us the people we are."
A video published by People Magazine, which planned to cover the wedding, shows the heartfelt moment when the newlyweds walk together down the aisle.
"It's a moment where it's really hard to explain, filled with so much gratitude and
love," Summers added. "That was such a special moment to do that with Chris. We've been waiting awhile to get married. God chose me to be Chris' wife and him to be mine.
"I know that having Chris by my side, we can get through anything."
Watch the full video from People:
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Chris Norton's story
Doctors gave Chris Norton a 3 percent chance of moving below the neck again after suffering a severe spinal chord injury in October 2010, when he covered a kickoff for Luther College's football team during a game.
"I was scared," Norton, a rural Altoona native and Bondurant-Farrar graduate, told the Register's Daniel Finney in October 2017. "In those early days, I wondered what kind of life I would have."
After years treatment and physical therapy, Norton rose from his wheelchair in 2015 and walked across the stage to receive his college degree. Emily Summers of Muscatine, his longtime girlfriend at the time, stood in front as Norton put some of his weight on her extended arms.
Since then, Norton and Summers moved to Detroit and then to Port St. Lucie, Florida, to continue rehabilitation. The young couple even became foster parents, caring for five children ranging ages 2 to 8.
Additionally, Norton helped found the SCI CAN Foundation, which raises money to provide equipment and support for others who have suffered spinal cord or other neurological injuries. He's also a motivational speaker and author. He plans to share his message how he went from his worst that October 2010 day to his best on April 21, 2018.
Nonprofit documentary film company Fotolanthropy is making a movie about Norton called "7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story." The organization has raised $111,000 for the film so far, and needs about $250,000 to finish it.
You can watch a trailer for the documentary here: