Norton gives back as he recovers from neck injury

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Chris Norton has gone from needing support to helping others with spinal cord injuries get the support they need. More photos below the scroll.

Recovering from an 0-10 season is no simple task. But the players on the Luther College football team have an incredible source of inspiration when it comes to recoveries.

Three years after suffering a spinal cord injury on the field, Chris Norton is overcoming his setback and has established a foundation to serve others who have experienced similar injuries.

The SCI CAN Foundation – which stands for Spinal Cord Injury, Christopher Anderson Norton – donates money and equipment to help others who have suffered similar injuries.

The SCI CAN foundation has made four total donations since its establishment in 2012, totaling $80,000. Those donations – such as the $28,000 RT 300 bike donated to Winneshiek Medical Center, the foundation’s first gift – have benefited more than 200 people in Iowa.

“It’s an awesome foundation that Chris has done a great job with,” first year Luther head coach Aaron Hafner said. “It makes the university and our football program very proud.”

Currently two fundraisers are held each year – one in Decorah, Iowa and another in Des Moines – but Norton said the goal is to hold three or four events annually. Fundraisers include dinner, auctions and guest speakers to create a “fun social event” for donors.

“I’ve been fortunate to have resources,” Norton said of his recovery, adding that insurance issues can limit a person’s recovery process. “I want to help so other people can have the same success story.”

Norton was injured on a special teams play during his freshman year at Luther, and was given a 3 percent chance of regaining feeling and movement below his neck. He has since regained the ability to walk with assistance and continues to improve all the time.

“It’s been three years and I’m still progressing. Every week I’m seeing something new,” Norton said.

Still going strong

Chris Norton was injured on Oct. 26, 2010. We last checked in with him almost a year later, when he returned to Luther and stood, with assistance, for the National Anthem. Watch that video feature.

Most recently Norton was able to discard ankle and knee braces that helped support him.

“I kind of graduated from that because both my knees and ankles are strong enough where I don’t need help anymore. So it just feels really good to get one less piece of equipment,” he said.

“Last week I tested out for my arm range of motion and strength,” Norton added. “It all improved from my previous marks (from) just a couple months ago.”

Norton spends an incredible amount of his time doing physical therapy at a rehab center in Decorah called Euro-Team as well as occupational therapy at Winneshiek Medical Center. Then there are therapy exercises that he does at school.

In July 2013 with his sister, Alex.
Alex Norton's Instagram feed 

In August 2012, going through rehab.

In September 2011, Chris Norton returned to Luther for a game and stood for the National Anthem.

Norton, right, on the sidelines before his October 2010 injury.

“It takes a lot of time during the week on top of school and therapy and my speaking engagements and the foundation,” Norton said.

“My goal is to walk across the stage for graduation in two years.”

Norton has remained close with the Luther football team since his injury, attending all home games and making road trips to as many away games as possible. Some of his best friends are currently playing for the Norse, so he said there has always been an “open door” to the team.

“This senior class came in with Chris. So he has a lot of really good friends that have really helped him through a lot of these situations,” Hafner said. “Those friends will last a lot longer than the game of football lasts.”

On the field, Luther has had its struggles and is looking to bounce back from a winless 2012 season.

After suffering a one-point loss to Presentation in Week 1 this year, Luther ended a 12-game losing streak dating back to the final week of the 2011 season with a 20-13 win over St. Olaf Saturday.

“It was just a great team win and it was exciting in front of an unbelievable crowd,” Hafner said, noting his first victory as head coach snapped the Norse’s nine-game losing streak to the Oles.

Rich Vickers blocked a St. Olaf punt with 5:44 remaining to play. One play later, Josh Vos scored on a 20-yard run for the go-ahead score – his second touchdown of the game.

“I think the big thing for us is just trying to develop a culture that fits our coaching style,” Hafner said. “That process, to be honest with you, happened a little bit quicker than I imagined it could have. Obviously, that translates into now allowing us to be a little more competitive on Saturday afternoons.”

The new coach brought changes to the program, instituting the option offense. That required converting cornerback J.J. Sirios to quarterback because he has previous experience running the option.

“They were more of a finesse team in the past,” Hafner said. “But the kids have really bought into the philosophy of how we practice and run the football.”

The Norse have approached this season with an optimistic outlook. Hafner believes that is a quality the team picks up from Norton.

“He has a positive attitude about everything that he’s going through,” the coach said. “And I know our kids draw a lot from that because they look at Chris, and say he had a tough situation happen to him and he can still get up every day and have a positive outlook on life.

“You just got to keep working hard and grinding it out, and positive things will happen. I think that’s what our kids get from Chris the most.”

For Norton, keeping his spirits high helps him stay motivated.

“You can’t really show up for therapy with a bad attitude and get a whole lot done,” Norton said. “I go into it really motivated and excited because I want to get better.”

The rest of the West

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps rallied to win its season opener at Lewis and Clark, 31-28 in overtime. Sean McKaveney completed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kris Otterholt with 8 seconds left in regulation to knot the score at 28-28. In overtime, James Ingram intercepted a Lewis and Clark pass, and Matthew Aven made his first collegiate field goal to give the Stags the victory. … Central bounced back from a close loss to UW-Oshkosh by thumping Augustana 38-13 at the newly redone Lindberg Stadium. Aaron Eiseler completed nine of his first 10 passes en route to 214 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a score. … Whitworth remained unbeaten thanks to a strong defensive effort. The Pirates recovered four fumbles, intercepted two passes and racked up three sacks in a 38-17 win over Whittier. … Behind a 20-point second quarter UW-Oshkosh defeated defending NAIA champion Marian (Ind.) 34-13. Cole Myhra rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns and the Titans’ defense piled up six sacks to improve to 2-0 overall.

Rank ’em

Once again, the West Region is well represented in this week’s Top 25 with nine teams ranked and another three receiving votes. Five teams from the Region are ranked among the top 10 and seven are in the top 15.

Remaining at No. 2, St. Thomas is the highest ranked team in the West again this week with Linfield one spot back at No. 3. The Tommies, who cruised to their second straight win at UW-River Falls, received seven-first place votes and the Wildcats received six.

Bethel moved up one spot to No. 7 while UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh remained Nos. 9 and 10, respectively. Pacific Lutheran rose one place to No. 11 and idle UW-Whitewater slid one position to No. 15. Coe moves up two spots to No. 20 and Cal Lutheran drops to No. 22 after a 31-24 season-opening loss to aforementioned Pacific Lutheran.

Augsburg (37 votes), Willamette (17) and Concordia-Moorhead (10) are just outside the Top 25.

Number of the week

71 – as in the number of points Linfield scored in its season-opening win over Hardin-Simmons. Charlie Poppen hauled in an 84-yard touchdown reception just 4 minutes,10 seconds into the game and Linfield never looked back. Josh Yoder led the Wildcats’ aerial assault with 350 yards passing and three touchdowns to lead the Wildcats. He also ran for one score.

Looking ahead

After a week off, UW-Whitewater will make the long bus trip to Buffalo State, looking to avenge a non-conference loss from last season. The Bengals snapped UW-W’s 46-game winning streak last season when they scored a late touchdown to take the contest, 7-6.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, break-out players or any other storylines in the West. Or just drop me a note and let me know what you like or don’t about the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter at @DU_Josh_Smith.

Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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