A Fotolanthropy hallmark is to incorporate the real people who were a part of the real story as much as we can. Cast members are interviewed and also participate in reenactments to bring the story to life.
As an 18-year-old freshman at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Chris Norton suffered a devastating spinal cord injury during a college football game. Told by doctors that he had only a 3 percent chance of regaining movement below the neck, Chris has continually defied medical odds and, in 2015, successfully accomplished his goal of walking his college graduation stage with the help of his fiancée, Emily. Video from the event went viral, inspiring millions worldwide. At the age of 20, Chris started the Chris Norton Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds to help those with spinal cord injuries and neurological disorders. Today, Chris is an author and professional speaker, and has shared his message of hope, resilience and faith across the nation.
Emily Summers has always had a heart for helping others. Raised in the small town of Muscatine, Iowa, she encountered many children living in unfortunate circumstances. Not one to sit by idly, Emily sought relational ways to care for those who were hurting. She served as a peer mentor, initiated an after school program for girls in middle school and created a talk show to share encouraging stories. She received a degree in family services from the University of Northern Iowa to pursue her dream of helping kids in the foster care system. To date, she and Chris have fostered 19 children and currently are honored to have five children in their home.
Mike Barwis is a renowned strength and conditioning coach and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Barwis Methods and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the NSCA. He serves as a Senior Advisor to the New York Mets and is the founder of two nonprofits: Athletic Angels Foundation and the First Step Foundation. Mike began training Chris for his college graduation walk and Barwis Methods gym has become a second home and family for Chris.
Terry Norton is Chris' father. A dedicated teacher and sports enthusiast, Terry has worked in education for 27 years and currently works at Des Moines Area Community College. He began his career as a high school teacher and varsity basketball coach, and loved coaching his own children in various athletics. When Chris was injured, Terry took three months off work to stay with Chris at the Mayo Clinic. He has been married to his wife Deb for 32 years and is so proud of his family's strength and unity.
Deb Norton is Chris' mother. She currently works at a capital management firm and has 25 years of investment management experience. Deb instilled a deep love for family time amongst her children, which often included family activities and vacations in between everyone's busy athletic schedules. When Chris was recovering at the Mayo Clinic, that commitment continued with Deb and Terry alternating work schedules to be with him. She enjoyed playing games, seeing movies and making the best of Chris' circumstances during his seven-month recovery at the Mayo Clinic.
Mike Durnin was the Head Football Coach at Luther College when Chris’ injury occurred. Mike now serves as the Dean of Student Formation for the University of Dubuque, IA. Mike has served on the board of directors for Chris Norton Foundation (previously known as SCI CAN) since its beginning. Mike and his family have been constant friends to Chris and his family since 2010. Mike has also served as an assistant football coach at the University of Dubuque, UW - La Crosse, Illinois State, University of Puget Sound, Yankton College and Minnesota State - Mankato, along with a time segment in private business.
Brian Solberg is one of the athletic trainers who worked with Chris at Luther College. He has been teaching and providing athletic training services to student athletes for 27 years, and his love of teaching, sport and athletic training were a perfect combination for the challenges of Chris’ early therapy and recovery. Brian currently works at Luther College as an associate professor in the health and physical education department and also as director of the athletic training program.
Del Ciucci is one of Chris' college friends and teammates. Del was just a few feet from Chris on the sidelines when his injury occurred. When Chris returned to Luther College after his recovery, Del lived with Chris to help him with the transition. Currently an athletic performance coach at the University of Missouri, Del has assisted Chris in organizing speaking engagements with collegiate football programs. He and Chris have remained close friends.
Rich Vickers is Chris' former college roommate and teammate. The two were randomly selected to share a dorm room and have been best friends ever since. Both Rich and Chris played the same football position for Luther and, following his injury, Chris would often sit on the sidelines and coach Rich. Today, Rich lives in New York City and works as director of advance for former President Bill Clinton. He was the best man in Chris and Emily's wedding.
Alex Norton is Chris' older sister. Now, an assistant professor of nursing, her professional course was shaped by Chris' injury. She was in her final year of nursing school when Chris was hurt and chose to pursue nursing in trauma and medical care intensive units following his injury. Upon graduation, Alex moved to Decorah, Iowa, to help Chris with his transition back to Luther College.
Katie Norton is Chris' younger sister. Just a freshman in high school when Chris was injured, Katie was constantly by his side and spent several days a week at the Mayo Clinic with Chris until his release. She graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in May 2018 with a degree in finance and remains one of Chris' biggest supporters.
Extras: A special thank you to the Luther community, Luther Football Team and Nurses at Mercy Medical center for being extras in the film!