In October 2010, Norton suffered a spinal cord injury while playing football for Luther College. Doctors gave him only a 3 percent chance of ever moving or feeling below the neck.
Norton was determined to fight the odds, prompting him to set his first goal of walking across the stage at his graduation. In 2015, after years of rehab and help from his fiancée Emily, he was able to make it across the stage to receive his diploma.
Norton then began working towards a second goal: walking Emily seven yards down the aisle at their wedding. The two would go on to co-author The Seven Longest Yards, detailing their journey. The book would later be adapted into the documentary, 7 Yards: The Chris Norton Story.
Eventually, Chris and Emily would foster their first child, Whittley — who is just seven years younger than them. The Nortons were her 18th placement.
“Emily already had this passion in her heart for children in the foster care system,” Norton said. “She grew up knowing that’s what she wanted to do with her life— to help and serve kids.”
In 2019, the Nortons adopted four sisters — Ava, Lilliana, Isabella and Ariana — who at the time were 8, 6, 4 and 1 years old. Then on June 30, 2021 they adopted Keondre, who they started fostering a year and a half earlier when he weighed only 13 pounds, bringing the total to six children.
Discussing the stigma around children in the foster care system, Norton said, “I would really encourage people to somehow get to know them, whether it’s volunteering or maybe just doing an outing or spending time with them.”
Adopt America Network, based in Toledo, was established in 1983 by Richard Ransom — the founder of Hickory Farms.
With a goal of helping families interested in adopting children from the foster care system. The organization assists over 300 children and 500 families a year. From 2016 to 2020, it placed 310 children into adoptive homes.
Each year, Adopt America Network holds the Home For Good Gala where it awards the Richard K. Ransom Award. The Nortons are this year’s recipients.
“Chris and his wife Emily have adopted 6 kids from foster care. They are committed to helping kids grow up in families. That is Adopt America’s mission,” Wendy Spoerl, president of Adopt America Network, said. “We give the award to individuals and organizations that reflect the life’s work of our founder Richard Ransom.”
Previous Ransom Award recipients include Jamie Farr, The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
The 2021 Home For Good Gala takes place Saturday, November 13 at Parkway Place, 2592 Parkway Plaza, Maumee. The event begins with a champagne reception at 5:30 pm, followed by a formal dinner. Tickets are $150 for a single seat and available online at adoptamericanetwork.org.