Cocktail parties at business conferences tend to put me on edge. I worry about remembering names and whether I’ll look awkward as I scan the crowd for friendly faces. I fret about what I’m wearing and whether I look, well…older.
Meeting motivational speaker and world traveler Chris Koch this past Sunday night at a social event at Ag Media Summit in St. Louis reminded me that my fretting and awkwardness is a choice. And a waste of time.
Chris, who was the keynote speaker at the annual conference that gathers agricultural writers and agribusiness communicators, was born without full arms and just one partial, short leg. He’s learned to overcome physical challenges many of us can’t quite fathom. His highly coordinated movements to manipulate his telephone, get on and off a chair, climb stairs or start a slide presentation are fascinating to watch. He wears his imperfections, he explains, as a “badge of honor.”
Growing up on a farm in Alberta, Canada, he was raised by parents who instilled a sense of independence and high expectations in Chris despite his differences. He learned to do chores without special treatment. “I can climb up into a John Deere tractor and run it,” he says. He also enjoyed playing street hockey and baseball. He later attended college, worked in the airline industry and got involved with the War Amputations of Canada, an organization that provides resources and support for amputees.
Eventually, Chris founded the “If I Can…” organization as a way to encourage others to live to their fullest potential. As a motivational speaker, his life story tells a lot but he is also engaging, insightful, confident and funny. He shares stories about his daily life with girlfriend Ally, worldwide adventures to Nepal, Cambodia and China, and many amazing people he’s met along the way.
Chris’ upbeat message has lead him to be a guest speaker at many businesses, including Google and Apple, plus countless schools and professional organizations. He’s appeared in a segment on the Oprah Winfrey Network. He and a friend recently created a pilot TV show about his life and adventures. (Call him, he might be shopping for a network to launch it!)
This video was shared via the OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) YouTube channel. It was posted on May 25, 2014, and originally created by John Chester of Apricot Lane Farms. I claim no rights to this content.
He’s also practical. Several years ago Chris figured out he could get around easier on a longboard skateboard than prosthetic legs. “I can go farther, faster and more efficiently,” he says. “Plus the narcissist in me loved it because of the reaction I get.”
I’m not sure the term narcissist is accurate to describe Chris Koch. Much of what he reveals about himself is geared toward helping others. He recently participated in the Calgary Marathon (he finished in 4 hours and 23 minutes) to raise money for a local charity and is planning, among other philanthropic things, a trek to the Mount Everest base camp to raise money for disabled children in Nepal.
Sometimes there are awkward reactions when people don’t expect to see his way of doing things. He jokes about a person that became unhinged after offering him help by saying, “Can I give you a hand?” He says he has come to realize the best way to gain acceptance and put other people at ease is by first accepting yourself.
“The feeling you have on the inside is gonna project on the outside. If you are worried about how you look, you could be cheating yourself out of opportunities,” he says. “Be comfortable with who you are.”
Good advice. For cocktail parties and life.
Read more about blogger Karen Bernick here. If you like this post, please consider clicking the follow blog to get regular updates or like the Facebook page Karen Loves Country or follow me on Twitter at @fanmama1. I write a lot about country music but enjoy going off topic occasionally. Thanks for reading!
Left: American Agricultural Editors Association outgoing president Elaine Shein invites a 2nd standing ovation for AMS keynote speaker Chris Koch. Upper right: ACT students meet Chris and lower right: myself, Chris and my co-worker Tonya Belk at the welcome cocktail party.