Farming without arms or legs

Wisconsin State Farmer
Chris Koch, from Canada, speaks at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation conference on Dec. 3 in Wisconsin Dells. Koch travels around the world sharing his message of, "If I Can..."

Someone at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Conference on Dec. 3 asked Chris Koch if he really farms, or just climbs on a tractor for some photos.

Koch's response: "I absolutely love farming. It's something that's in your blood. I also love it because it's not a job you would expect a guy without arms and legs to be doing."

Koch grew up on a farm, on his mom's side of the family, in a small farming community in southern Alberta, Canada. He assured his audience that he does actually farm, spending hours on tractors and in combines helping with crops such as corn, barley, peas, or sunflowers. 

It is what it is

As Koch tells it, growing up without arms or legs was "quite easy." Partly because he was raised without pity or sympathy, partly because of his family's quirky sense of humor, which he shares.

Born with no arms or legs, Koch tells the story of his grandma's reaction when she heard the news, saying Koch's dad "never did finish anything he started."

Chris Koch, from Canada, speaks at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation conference on Dec. 3 in Wisconsin Dells. Koch travels around the world sharing his message of, "If I Can..."

Koch's parents didn't treat his disability as a tragedy, but rather the reality of "it is what it is." His parents knew they needed to let Koch figure out how to do things on his own, even if it was difficult to watch him struggle at times.

"We all have our own story, all have our own struggles," said Koch. "Everyone is fighting a battle you can't see."

Figuring out how to ride a tractor or a longboard or do anything that might be faster or easier for someone with arms and legs, that's when "the six inches of space between your ears gets in the way," said Koch. 

"That's when life gets a little more difficult," Kock explained. "The mind is the strongest muscle we have in our body. We can convince ourselves that we are absolutely capable of anything, but we can also convince ourselves that we are worthless and useless."

If he had arms and legs, it would be much easier for Koch to walk up to a cash machine, put in his card and punch in the code to get cash instead of "flagging down some random stranger to help, which I've done a million times and haven't been robbed," Koch said.

He jokes it could be because he is "unarmed" and a guy without legs makes for a clean getaway, but Koch believes in the inherent goodness of people. It seems they haven't let him down yet. 

However, Koch believes "if you put positivity up, you will get positivity back. If you put up negativity, you will get negativity back," and his positivity is a big reason no one has tried to rob him during his solo travels. 

Koch gave up wearing artificial legs about six or seven years ago when he discovered he could get where he wanted to go faster on a longboard than on artificial legs. For areas, like the farm, that aren't accessible on the longboard, he hops, although "hopping on one leg through corn stubble is not comfortable," he joked.

"Necessity is the mother of invention. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it work," Koch said. "So far I've done well."

If I can

It may take him longer to do certain things, or he has to do some tasks differently than someone with arms or legs, but Koch can do anything others can do. 

He proves that every time he travels to speak to spread his message of "If I Can."

What started as a travel show idea with a friend, turned into a larger project with Koch traveling the world to share that message. 

Koch isn't bothered by questions or stares when he travels. He would rather answer questions and give the right answer than have someone make the wrong assumptions.

"If you're worried about how you look, you're cheating yourself out of opportunities," said Koch.  

Koch encourages people to "experience as much of this world as you possibly can," to challenge and push themselves, getting outside of their comfort zone, because, "it reminds you that you're alive."

"I've completely accepted the fact that I don't have arms and legs. I'm going to enjoy life as much as I can," Koch said. "If I can snowboard, surf, farm, if I can do all those things, anybody can."

Koch reminds people to not let one bad thing among hundreds of good things ruin their day, week or life. 

"I'm far more afraid of regret than I am of failure. I don't want to look back and say I wish I would have tried this, I wish I would have tried that," Koch added. "I want to look back on life and know I did as much as I possibly could. Not everything went my way, but at least I tried."

Koch hoped that his appearance at the WFBF conference gave people a "kick in the butt" to try something they've always wanted to try. 

"When you wake up on Jan. 1, you're given 365 opportunities to live and I hope you make the most out of each and every one of those days," Koch added.