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'It goes back to mindset'; motivational speaker implores students to focus on life's positives

Chris Koch at Skyview Middle School
Hunter Morrison
Chris Koch at Skyview Middle School

One of the first things you notice about Chris Koch is his quirky sense of humor. When his family found out about his disability just after he was born, he says his grandmother simply pointed out the fact that his father “never did finish anything he started.” With this mentality, Koch says, growing up without arms or legs was quite easy.

"A lot of people find that surprising," said Koch, addressing a gymnasium full of students at Soldotna’s Skyview Middle School Jan. 23. “How can it possibly be easy growing up without arms or legs? It goes back to mindset, that six inches of space between the ears. Mindset and how you look at the world is so, very important.” 

Koch says he had a relatively normal childhood near Calgary, Alberta. His parents raised him to be independent, and he credits his farming lifestyle to his success today.

As part of his personal mantra, Koch aims to push himself outside of his comfort zone while challenging others to do the same. He also urges people to focus on the good in life.

“I have no control over the fact that I was born like this, it is completely out of my control," Koch said. "But what is within my control is how I respond to it.” 

Koch says he occasionally spots a stranger staring at him, but it doesn’t bother him. Koch also likes to make light of his condition. He talked about a time a child was taken aback by his disability after getting a haircut.

“I said ‘are you getting your haircut next?’ and he goes ‘yeah.’ I said ‘well you better be careful, I had arms and legs when I first got in that chair.’ Life’s too short to take seriously,” Koch said.  

Although he was never bullied in school, Koch knows not everyone with a disability can say the same. He believes bullying does not come naturally to children, but is learned from rude adults.

“I’m hoping I can encourage them to be a little bit more compassionate, a little more understanding to not just the people in their school but the people that they’ve never even met on the other side of the world," Koch said. "There’s going to be challenges, there’s going to be obstacles, and to persevere and push through to develop their resilience, and not be too quick to throw in the hat at the sight of any sort of adversity.” 

“Anytime we can give our students an opportunity to view situations from other people’s perspectives, we’re giving them more tools for their toolbox,” said Shonia Werner, principal of Skyview Middle School. “I loved his humor and I loved how he was able to bring a little bit of levity to his serious situation by showing students that you can have these big challenges, but really, as long as you push through it and give it your best, you can come out on top.” 

While some people use comedy as a way to hide their feelings, Koch affirms he has no sour emotions to hide. He says he genuinely loves life. And he believes middle school-aged children are some of the most critical people to make a positive and lasting impact on.

“If you can instill that mindset now, hopefully they can make the best choices possible,” Koch said.  

Since he started giving lectures about fifteen years ago, Koch has presented to people of all ages in 33 countries and 40 states. This is his first time in Alaska.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL
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