When Chris Norton was 18-years-old, his life revolved around football. A star player, he was never more comfortable than when on the pitch. It was this passion for the sport that would make it even more tragic when a freak accident during a game left the talented teen paralyzed from the neck down.

“I was running down to make a tackle at kickoff after we scored a touchdown, and I made a diving tackle at his leg. I mistimed my jump just by a split second,” Chris explains, recalling the life-changing moment. “Instead of getting my head in front of the legs of the ball carrier, my head collided right with his legs, and instantly, I lost all movement and feeling from my neck down.”

Despite the severity of his injuries, it would take Chris several minutes before he realized something was very wrong.

The strong student, then at his physical peak, was left confused when he attempted to lift himself off the ground and found that he couldn’t feel anything from the neck down.

After being rushed to the local emergency room in Decorah, Iowa, Chris was airlifted to the nearby Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for an intense surgical procedure which used part of his hip bone to fuse together his C3, C4 and C5 vertebrae – the section of his spine in his neck.