The first thing you notice about Chris Koch is that he had no arms or legs.
But what you remember after meeting him is his joyous grin, and the three words that sum up his approach to life: If I Can.
Thanks to Oprah Winfrey, Koch is a YouTube sensation and he’d just come back from L.A. and negotiations about launching his own TV show when he spoke at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference last month.
But he’s very much the farm boy from Nanton with a passion for life — and a self-deprecating sense of humour.
“When I was born, my grandma set the tone,” he said. “My uncle phoned to let my grandma and grandpa know that my parents had had a baby boy. Healthy, but not everything was there. And my grandma didn’t even hesitate. She said, ‘Bruce (my dad) didn’t finish anything he started.’”
Koch’s parents raised him to be confident and independent by exposing him to everything that other children were exposed to.
“My parents knew if they did everything for me that I wouldn’t be able to be independent,” said Koch.
Nanton’s community also supported him.
“People always make the assumption that it must be quite difficult to grow up without arms and legs,” he said. “But I was born like this. This has been my norm. I just learned how to do things the way I do things.”
When not giving motivational speeches or travelling, the 35-year-old farmer works full time for Mesabi Ranches owned by Mike and Jo Sears. While Koch can’t drive a vehicle legally, he is able to drive a tractor as well as shovel hay and feed animals.
One of the reasons he likes his work is because it’s not a job commonly done by someone without arms or legs. He loves driving by in the combine, and confusing people who gawk at his lack of limbs.
“I love being on the farm. I grew up riding around in the tractors with my grandpa and my uncles,” he said. “All farm equipment today is very easy for me to run and I don’t have to make any adaptations or modifications to the equipment.
“I can jump on any piece of John Deere equipment off the lot and run that equipment. Tractor, combine, or sprayer, it’s no problem. But if I break down, I’m not that great at turning wrenches.”
As a child, Koch used artificial arms, but didn’t like them. He wore prosthetic legs until about four years ago, when he discovered he could get around much faster on a skateboard, now his preferred method of transportation.
His motivational speeches focus on self-acceptance, humour, and honesty — and a willingness to try new things. In August 2013, he climbed all 802 stairs of the Calgary Tower to raise money for the flood-ravaged Calgary Zoo. He was also featured on ‘Super Soul Sunday’ on Oprah Winfrey’s TV network. (Google ‘Chris Koch’ to find the video and his website.)
His motivational speaking project, ‘If I Can,’ started off as an idea for a travel show. To see if he was able to travel despite his disability, Koch and good friend Jeremy Comstock travelled through Brazil. He then toured around Europe alone for three months, has since been to Asia, and is close to striking a deal for a pilot for his travel television show.
His take-home message is simple: If a guy without arms and legs can do it, anyone can achieve their dreams.
Take chances, try new things, and don’t define yourself by your limitations, he told his audience.