“The only thing that can stop you is yourself.”
This is the motto Chris Madison adopted at the tender age of 10 after an accident on Lake Hamilton left him with a prosthetic leg and an appreciation for life most youth never experience.
Madison, staff attorney for the city of Bryant, explained what happened.
“It was boat versus jet ski. The jet ski and I lost. I was fortunate my head didn’t get in the propeller,” Madison recalled.
After 11 days in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent Infirmary and three surgeries, he met a 12-year-old named Tommy whom he described as his “guiding light.”
“I had gone through all of the stages – anger, ‘why me?,’ but when I met Tommy, another amputee, he taught me that I was the only one who could stop myself. The loss of my leg has made me a better person. I’ve learned that life is short, precious and that I can achieve my goals."
The accident did not hinder Madison's athletic ability. As a freshman at Wilbur D. Mills High School in Little Rock, Madison made the varsity baseball squad.
“I wasn’t one of the star players, but I gave 120 percent effort and never quit. My coach used me as a motivational tool.”
Following high school, Madison attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he met his wife, Natalie.
“We met in film lecture class, of all things” she said. “It was one of those required classes.”
“I tried to flunk out; if it hadn’t been for my wife, I probably would have,” Maddison added.
Upon college commencement, Madison enrolled in the Law Enforcement Training Academy in Camden, where he graduated first in his class.
“I wasn’t the fastest, but I wasn’t the slowest in the physical agility test,” he adds.
Madison then accepted a position at the Sherwood Police Department, where he worked patrol and warrants. It was in the courtroom that the notion to become an attorney surfaced.
“I served as court security and bailiff. I would listen to some of the lawyers and think, ‘If they can pass the bar (exam), surely I can,’” he recalled.
That is exactly what he did. “I took the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and got in at UALR.”
Passing up a promotion at the Sherwood Police Department, Madison decided to resign in order to attend law school full time. The choice served him well, where – earning a 3.5 grade point average – he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class, ranking 11th out of 113 students.
Success seemed to follow Madison, leading to his making Law Review and serving as assistant editor of Delphi Law.
Just four weeks after being sworn in at the Welch and Kitchens law firm, he had the esteemed opportunity to argue a First Amendment legislative immunity case before the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The constitutional freedom of speech case was the first of hundreds of cases he argued during the three years he worked at the firm.
While practicing law was challenging and intriguing, Madison says he missed police work.
“I went back to work for Sherwood PD. I practiced law by day, from about 8 a.m. until noon; I would then work the 2-10 p.m. shift at the police department.
"I was working 16 hours a day. It kept me grounded," he said.
After approximately a year and a half of the demanding schedule, Natalie was ready for her husband to spend more time at home. She decided to take up a hobby: ballroom dancing.
“I needed a social outlet, so I enrolled in a class at Arthur Murray Dance Studio in North Little Rock,” Natalie noted.
While Madison enjoyed law enforcement, he resigned from the police force, allowing him more personal time. He signed on with Holleman and Associates before opening his own general practice firm approximately a year later.
When the staff attorney position for the city of Bryant became available, he said it was an opportunity he had to explore. He applied. He interviewed. He accepted.
“I am loving the city of Bryant. It is a fun, exciting place. There are challenges every day that I enjoy. The story of my life is to set goals and reach them. Somewhere I saw ‘Dreams are goals without deadlines.' That’s how I like to approach things,” he said.
His new role has afforded him more time to spend with his wife – on the dance floor.
“I blame it solely on my wife. It took her eight months to convince me to take a lesson. “
Natalie said he accompanied her to a competition where he saw her dance with an instructor. “He said, ‘if Ray can do it, so can I,’” she recalled.
Madison says he doesn’t have an ankle for the rise and fall that is needed for the waltz, but he has learned to improvise.
“I have been dancing for three-and-a-half years now. We’ve been to a couple of competitions in Mexico and Texas.”
Last fall the dancing duo won a competition at a fundraising event hosted at the Governor’s Mansion.
“Ballroom dancing is more challenging,” Madison explained. “It requires technique and form.”
“He does not think of himself as handicapped, nor do I,” Natalie added. “I forget about it. He works to overcome those disadvantages.”
Madison credits the life lessons he learned as a child and the advice he received from a 12-year-old boy for shaping his life.
“Every day I wake up above ground, I’m happy for it. Anything I have set my mind to do, I accomplish it. I found a journal from when I was 12. I had written that I wanted to be a lawyer some day.”
Madison, who said one of his dreams was to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force or Navy, is currently earning his pilot’s license. “I scored a 98 on the ASVAB. They recruited me, until they learned I had a fake leg."
Now, the sky literally is the limit for Madison.
He and Natalie, as last year’s winners, will be performing at the Governor’s Mansion Nov. 9 for the “Dancing into Dreamland” benefit.