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Chris Koch, an Alberta, Canada farmer, presents a motivational speech titled 'If I Can...' to attendees of the 2017 International Crop Expo (ICE) Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. (Nick Nelson/Agweek)

Limbless Canadian farmer embraces life

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Chris Koch said, with a perfectly straight face, that he has a "disarming personality." Then he broke into a broad grin and said, "I like to tell corny jokes. It puts people at ease."

Koch — a Nanton, Alberta, farmer and motivational speaker born without arms and legs — was the keynote speaker Jan. 22 on the first day of the annual two-day International Crop Expo in Grand Forks, N.D. The event drew about 4,000 people and 180 exhibitors

The Crop Expo was created by the combination of events hosted individually by small grains, potato and bean groups after the Alerus Center in Grand Forks opened. The show features concurrent sessions on potatoes, soybeans/dry beans and small grains, as well as speakers of general interest.

Koch, who also spoke with Agweek before his keynote speech, said, "The fact is, I don't have arms and legs. I get stares and questions all the time. It doesn't bother me one bit."

That reflects his upbringing. Family members never treated him with pity or allowed him to use his disability as an excuse, he said.

"I wasn't going to be poor Chris, that disabled boy from Nanton, Alberta," he said.

Today, "My independence is almost endless because of their approach," he said. "Yeah, I have to do some things differently. It takes me a lot more energy to do my day-to-day chores and activities. But it is what it is. It's just part of life."

Koch — who uses the stumps of his arms to push himself around on a skateboard— doesn't use much adaptive technology, the term for tools and devices designed to help people with disabilities.

"If I keep it simple, anywhere in the world is accessible to me," he says.

Until six years ago, the 38-year-old Koch used artificial legs. Then he decided the board would be more efficient and require less energy and effort.

"I can tell, you, though, getting around in stubble fields isn't exactly pleasant," he said with a smile.

He drives tractors and handles other tasks on the farm of family friends, who operate a feedlot and raise a variety of grains. He described his role as "plug and play," or doing whatever is needed.

"It's something that's in your blood, that's in your system, that you just love," he said of farming.

His disability does affect him on the farm, though he adjusts for it.

"I'm not able to do as much if something breaks down," Koch said. "So I try to run my machinery as kindly as I can."

'Best of both words'

Koch said he occasionally has "moments of self-doubt." He's found that "where the problem can arise is, when the six inches between your ears get in the way."

In general, though, "I'm comfortable in my own skin. I'm confident of who I am. I'm proud of who I am," he said.

He speaks several times a month, or more, often to farm and youth groups. Most of the presentations are in the United States or Canada, but he's also been to Australia and Southeast Asia. With characteristic humor, he described himself as "a global adventurer."

Being both a farmer and motivational speaker gives him "the best of both worlds," he said. "I've done some pretty cool stuff (as a speaker.) But it's always nice to go back" to farming.

"I wouldn't trade my life for anything in this world," he said.

No regrets

Koch constantly challenges himself to try new and different things.

"I'm more afraid of regret than I am of failure. I do not want to look back at life and say, 'I wish I would have done this. I wish I would have done that.' (Instead) I'll say I did as much as I possibly could. Some things didn't go my way and I might not do it again, but at least I tried," he said.

Then his sense of humor flashed again and he added, "There are some things I don't want to fail at. I really want to try sky-driving, but I don't want to fail at that. That would be bad."

As Koch continues to tackle life, he lives by this motto:

"Every day may not be great, but there's something great in every day."

To learn more about Koch and his speaking services: www.ifican.ca.

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