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Despite Disability, Motivational Speaker Continues Farming
Like most farmers, Chris Koch gets irritated when equipment breaks down and he has to call for help. Asking for help isn’t in his genes, despite the fact that Koch has stumps where arms and legs should be. Regardless of the disability he was born with, the 35-year-old Canadian snowboarded, golfed, and played baseball and road hockey as a kid, attended college, and worked for an airline, all before returning to his first love – farming.
Mix in his love for travel, giving motivational talks, and accomplishing feats like climbing 802 steps at Calgary Tower for a Calgary Zoo fund-raiser, and it’s obvious Koch leads a full life.
He does it without major equipment modifications. Give him a longboard skateboard and he’s good to go.
These days, he farms with modern John Deere equipment while working for Sears Ranches Ltd., which has a large beef operation in Nanton, Alberta, and 10,000 acres of crops in Torquay, Saskatchewan. Like the rest of the workers, Koch puts in long days planting, spraying, and harvesting. During winter and slower times in summer, he gives motivational talks and he travels.
In February, he began a new adventure as the star of a short film produced by his friend, John Chester. Koch was visiting Chester at his Apricot Lane Farms in California when they decided to make a film. The result of five six-hour days of film was a six-minute short film that appeared in May on a “Steep Your Soul” segment on Super Soul Sunday on the Oprah Winfrey Network (Youtube.com/embed/H9S3n_tILKo).
The film shows Koch climbing into a tractor, driving, and jumping to the ground; riding a mower and ATV; hopping on one leg and skateboarding – his favorite mode of transportation.
“I was wearing artificial legs until about four years ago,” says Koch. “I needed a little assistance to get the last couple of straps on. It was 30 seconds of assistance, but it made a big difference.”
When his living situation changed and he was on his own again, he had to figure out how to do it by himself.
After much effort, he came up with a process that took a very long time. Once he rediscovered mobility freedom on a skateboard during a Florida trip, he tossed his prosthetics under the bed.
For the times he can’t use the skateboard, he hops on one leg. That, plus sit-ups, push-ups, and stair climbing keep him in shape, Koch says, which is especially important when he spends long days driving tractors.
“There are some things I can’t do. I can’t fill the grain seeder or the fertilizer tanks,” he says. “So I make sure I work hard and pick up the slack. I don’t want to be that ‘special guy’ who just runs the tractor.”
He’s been known to disk for more than 24 hours; he can also fix minor problems and plugs.
“I absolutely love farming,” Koch says. “Harvest is a lot of fun. There’s just something romantic about being on a combine, harvest moons, and wheat fields dancing in the wind.”
It’s also a job with time off that allows him to travel and pursue his motivational speaking business, which he calls “If I Can…”
Since the Oprah segment aired and was posted on YouTube, Koch has enjoyed attention from reporters, groups booking him, and even marriage proposals, he adds with a laugh.
With a quirky sense of humor and lots of optimism, he lives the message of his talks. “Deal with what the facts are and accept that,” he says. “Patience is a huge key.”
For farmers dealing with health issues and disabilities, Koch believes there are easy fixes and adaptations to keep them doing a job they love.
While Koch is excited about new speaking opportunities in new places, he emphasizes that he has his priorities. Most of April to June and August through September are booked.
He’ll be farming.