Kindness goes a long way

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It can be easy to dismiss people or situations because they seem scary or difficult. But that mindset is something Chris Koch has set out to break.

Born in Nanton, a small Alberta town, Koch has faced his share of challenges as he was born with no arms or legs. The quadriplegic has made it his life’s mission to teach people they can do anything they want.

It was under this premise that the motivational speaker set out on his latest journey, making his way from Calgary on July 8 to St. John’s, NL, just by the kindness of strangers. Koch passed through Pictou County on July 22 and 23 enroute to Newfoundland via ferry.

“I don’t have any legs but I get an itchy left foot,” he laughed. “I love travelling, I love adventure … I’ve always wondered if I can hitchhike across Canada and I thought, ah screw it, I’m just going to go for it,” he said. “I decided … that if I don’t make it out of Alberta that’s fine, at least I tried.”

Koch never really asked any of the people he got a ride with for a drive; he would wait and strike up a conversation with someone standing nearby or wait for them to approach him. If they asked what he was doing he would tell them about his journey and if they wanted to help him out they would offer a ride.

“The night before I left … I didn’t sleep a wink, my mind was going from every best case scenario that could happen on this trip and every worst case scenario that could happen and everything in between,” Koch laughed. “And I’ve always said I’m more afraid of regret than I am of failure.”

Koch encountered some great people on his journey.

“One of the most incredible people I met along the way is a man named Jim… he just lost his wife a few weeks ago and he was driving up to California where she’s originally from to have a celebration of life ceremony and spread her ashes. So he was on his way back to Brampton and he walked up to me and I was waiting at the Terry Fox Memorial just chatting with people. So Jim came up and he said, ‘It looks like you’re having a pretty rough go.’ I said ‘Actually no, things are going pretty great,’ and he goes, ‘Well, are you accepting donations or something?’ I said, ‘No, I’m just hitchhiking across Canada trying to get to Sault Ste. Marie tonight,’ and he said ‘Well that’s exactly where I’m going, so jump in’.”

Jim went out of his way to help Koch. For three days in a row, about 1,300 kilometers and 16 and a half hours in the vehicle the two travelled together in harmony.

Koch enjoyed meeting up with Buddhist monks in P.E.I. as well as an old friend who saw him on the highway and offered him a ride. He had one man in Toronto pick him up, take him to Ottawa and come right back, even having his wife make Russian pancakes for them to snack on along the way.

“It’s just been really kind people, and even the people who aren’t able to offer rides, you know offering up, ‘Can I buy you a drink? Can I get you some water? Can we give you some cash?’”

Koch said he has never really deliberately hitchhiked before this experience but when he is skateboarding from one town to another, sometimes people stop and ask him if he needs a ride. He is no stranger to travel, as his job as a motivational speaker has brought him as far away as Asia and Australia. As he was sharing his progress on his Facebook page, Chris Koch — If I Can, he mentioned that a lot of people did not realize he did not have a support vehicle or anyone with him — it’s just him, his backpack and his skateboard.

“The theme or the motto that I speak to is ‘If I can.’ So if the guy with no arms and legs can work on the farm, snowboard, surf, travel the world, hitchhike across the country, or even just live a happy independent life, if I’m able to do those things anyone is capable of anything. And it honestly has nothing to do with the arms and legs, it’s the six inches of space between the ears that is the hindrance,” said Koch. “We all have obstacles, we all have challenges, we can accept it and rise above it or we can make it our excuse … if you realize that it begins and ends with you and even the bad things, you still have the option and the decision to learn from whatever happened and still always put the onus on your own shoulders.”

He shared that it really is people that make him love what he does and it was a big reason why he wanted to do his trip, to help highlight the kindness of strangers and how nice people really can be.

Motivational speaker Chris Koch passed through Pictou County last week as the man with no arms or legs hitchhiked across Canada. (Brimicombe photo)