DES MOINES, Iowa — The injury can leave you feeling helpless.
“You are just trying to survive. Your whole world stops. This is it,” said Chris Norton. To outsiders, it can be horrific. “That’ll be a day and a moment I will have with me the rest of my life,” said Jeff McMartin.
With everyone looking on it can also be humbling. “I was, at the moment embarrassed. I didn’t want all this attention but you are also thankful for everyone taking a knee and the moment of silence,” said Norton.
As Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin fell to the ground after a hit on Monday Night Football former Luther College football player and Bondurant-Farrar High School graduate Chris Norton could relate. He said, “Well it is heartbreaking every time you see it. You hate to see it.”
A spinal cord injury in a 2010 football game against Central College left Norton a quadriplegic. “It is so much bigger than a game of football. It is life itself,” Norton said.
An avalanche of support is pouring in for Hamlin who remains in critical condition as of Tuesday night. Norton was life flighted after the injury from the Luther field in Decorah, Iowa to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and says support from anywhere during Hamlin’s fight will matter.
“I felt so isolated. I felt my world got completely upended and to know there are people rooting for you, people praying for you and sending well wishes it feels good to know that people got your back,” said Norton.
McMartin was on the field when Norton was injured. He was and still is the head coach for the Central College Football team. McMartin says Hamlin’s injury Monday night against the Bengals took his mind right back. “I can see it like it was five minutes ago. I don’t think about it every day but when something like last night happens it puts you right back on the field,” said McMartin.
Those rare injuries are the ones that give everyone a newfound perspective and sometimes a new focus to keep the season going. “We’ve been given something. A gift and we need to use that and appreciate that we are healthy and out there and honor Chris in how we play,” McMartin said.
Norton defied the three percent odds doctors gave him of ever regaining movement below his neck and even walked down the aisle on his wedding day. It is that determination Norton hopes to pass along to Hamlin if he needs it. “I’m gonna be part of that three percent. I’m not going to be part of the ninety-seven percent. It is that fighter mentality in me and I’m sure that to get to where he is at playing in the NFL he’s got a big spirit.”
While it remains uncertain if the injury will take away Hamlin’s ability to play the sport. Norton says there’s a chance for Hamlin to have an even larger impact than he ever could have before. “What I’ve discovered along the way is that your life is as rich as the lives you enrich. I believe Damar was given this opportunity to enrich lives,” said Norton.
In 2021 NETFLIX released a documentary on Norton’s life. He now runs the Chris Norton Foundation which helps people living with spinal cord and neuromuscular disabilities. Norton is also a professional motivational speaker.