"We stick together and know anything is possible if we don't give up," says Chris Norton
On April 21, Chris Norton walked his bride, Emily Summers, down the aisle in Jupiter, Florida — something that was always just a dream for the groom who was left paralyzed in a football accident.
“I can’t believe we did it,” Norton, 26, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “We wanted this so badly.”
Now, nearly eight years after being told he had a three percent chance of ever moving again, Norton and his new bride are tackling a different kind of challenge: foster parenthood.
The couple — who met in 2013 — have long desired to give back. Growing up, Summers was involved in mentoring underprivileged youth and always wanted to be a foster mom.
When she was in high school, Summers met a young girl named Whittley who was struggling in her personal life. She helped guide the teen through many obstacles, so it wasn’t surprising when, in August 2016, Whittley asked the young couple if they could foster her.
Watch the full episode of Chris Norton: Overcoming Paralysis One Step At A Time, streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.
Norton, then 23, and Summers, then 22, said yes to then-17-year-old Whittley with no hesitation.
• For much more on the Chris Norton and Emily Summers story, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
“When we saw the transformation we made in her life we knew it was all worth it,” says Summers, who made Whittley a bridesmaid at her wedding.
Whittley also inspired them to take in five more children, who are all under the age of eight.
“We were at the point where we purchased a larger vehicle just to accept a larger placement of children,” says Norton, who works full time as motivational speaker.
Norton — who also started the Chris Norton Foundation that has raised over $800,000 for people with spinal cord injuries — shows the children that while he might not have experienced the same adversities they have, he still understands what it’s like to struggle. In fact, though Norton follows a rigorous daily regimen of training to improve his overall body strength, he will never be able to walk more than a few yards, and even then only with help.
“I have these conversations with them that my life is still great with a wheelchair and that things can happen to you but if you keep moving forward you can use it for the good,” he says. “It can make them stronger.”
Summers, who is Norton’s full time caregiver, also makes sure the kids get to school and come home to healthy meals. They recently took a day trip to Disney World, and on a daily basis spend quality time together doing everything from painting to playing the backyard.
Norton and Summers want to help as many people children as they can, all while sharing their story of how far they’ve come.
Fotolanthropy, a non-profit organization that celebrates stories of hope of those who have defied odds, started to work on a documentary about Norton, Summers, and their ambitious goal to make it down the aisle. The organization needs $250,000 to finish the film and already raised over $111,000. And so far, they’ve been their for all the important moments — including “I do.”
At their wedding — with their five foster children never more than an arm’s length away from them — the newlyweds celebrated with nearly 200 of their closest friends and family. As they walked down the aisle holding on to each other, everyone cheered and cried.
“Life is a roller coaster,” says Chris, “but we stick together and know anything is possible if we don’t give up.”