Luther football player Chris Norton (No. 16) stands while being honored at the first home football game of the season. He is assisted by teammates Obi Ukabiala (No. 93) and Kyle McGivney (No. 35). Norton was chosen as the CBS Courage in Sports America's Choice Honoree, announced Saturday morning. Norton and his family traveled to New York City to appear on the CBS Morning Show and meet Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who suffered a similar spinal injury the same day as Norton. (Photo by Erik Hageness)
Luther football player Chris Norton (No. 16) stands while being honored at the first home football game of the season. He is assisted by teammates Obi Ukabiala (No. 93) and Kyle McGivney (No. 35). Norton was chosen as the CBS Courage in Sports America's Choice Honoree, announced Saturday morning. Norton and his family traveled to New York City to appear on the CBS Morning Show and meet Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who suffered a similar spinal injury the same day as Norton. (Photo by Erik Hageness)
Luther College football player Chris Norton is the winner of the 22nd annual CBS Courage in Sports America's Choice Honor.

Norton was one of six nominees for the award. The winner, who was determined by a six-week Facebook voting competition, was announced Saturday morning on the CBS Early Show. He received nearly one million votes.

His story was featured Sunday afternoon on the CBS Courage in Sports special, which also included honorees Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham; the Gainesville State School football team; Kevin Jordan and Tom Walter; and Kortney Clemons.

The America's Choice Honor recognizes individuals who have overcome monumental challenges to achieve greatness in the world of sports.

Other nominees included Rutgers' Eric LeGrand; Andrew, Paul, Colter and Willy Phillips - a group of talented young athletes who lost their father in a plane crash last year; Michigan State's Arthur Ray Jr.; The Fennville (Mich.) High School basketball team; and professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce.

In addition to being flown to New York to tape the CBS Early Show, the Norton family was able o tour Yankee Stadium and meet the LeGrand family prior to the Rutgers vs. Army game. LeGrand is a Rutgers football player who suffered a similar injury on the same day as Norton.



Norton's story

Norton, a graduate of Bondurant-Farrar High School, was a freshman defensive lineman when he was hurt during a game Oct. 16, 2010. The Norse were kicking off in the third quarter against Central College when Norton went to make a routine play.

Doctors informed the Norton family he had a broken neck and a compressed spinal cord, giving him just a 3 percent chance of ever having any movement below the neck. However, the day after his injury, Norton was able to move his arm slightly, giving him and his family hope.

Less than a year later, Norton was honored as honorary captain at Luther's first home game of the year, Sept. 10. He stood on the field for the coin toss. While still undergoing therapy, Norton has returned to Luther as a student. He recently reached a new milestone - standing on his own for three minutes.

"Being 18 years old, you think you're invincible, that nothing bad can happen to you. When the doctor said I had that 3 percent chance, it didn't phase me. He could have given me any percentage and I wouldn't have believed it," said Norton on the Sunday TV show.

Norton's parents, Terry and Debbie, agreed.

"As a father you spend you're whole life trying to protect your children. As a parent you don't want to see anything bad happen to them," said Terry. "Chris has never complained. He's always worked hard. I knew if anyone could overcome this, he could."

Norton was nominated for the honor by Luther Head Coach Mike Durnin.

"Since the injury last year to both Chris and Eric LeGrand, I have followed their stories, and when I read about Eric being nominated for the Courage in Sports award, I believed it was a great opportunity to nominate Chris so even more people could hear another positive journey in the sports world," stated Durnin.

"The Courage in Sports award is a great tribute to Chris Norton and his family and represents the strength of their faith, the strength of their family and friends, and the positive outlook and determination they model each and every day. There is no doubt Chris and his family have made and continue to make a positive impact on the Norse football program and all who hear Chris' story."



Close family

Norton credits a lot of his recovery to the support of his family. His sister Alex, a recent nursing school graduate, has moved to Decorah to help her brother with his rehab.

"My family has always been close, we've always been there for everyone. It really hasn't changed, we're just more in the spotlight now," Norton said.

Terry said the family's faith helped give them the courage to face the challenge.

"I think for us, our faith in God and our trust that things were going to work out helped," he said. "You have to keep believing and be positive and encourage each other."