Health & Wellness

Limbless man completes marathon in Canada

A lot of people have "completing a marathon" on their bucket lists, but not many have the motivation and determination to actually do it. Marathons are hard work: 26.2 grueling miles, months of intense training, and sore, achy muscles when it’s all over. It’s an intimidating feat for most people — but not for Chris Koch.

Dave Holland / Canadian Sport Institute Calgary
Chris Koch, of Nanton, AB, takes to the course on his long board at the start of the 52nd Calgary Marathon at Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta on May 29, 2016.

The motivational speaker was born without arms and legs, but that didn’t stop Koch, 37. He used his long board to successfully finish The Scotiabank Calgary Marathon in Canada last week.

As Koch noted, some naysayers might think it was a cop-out that he used the board for the race, but 26.2 miles is challenging no matter how you conquer it — and especially when you can only use one limb to push yourself through it.

“I only use my right leg, which has a partially developed foot — I’m completely missing my left leg,” Koch told TODAY. “I drag the heel to slow myself down and regulate speed when going down hills. I can’t switch back and forth, so my right leg gets pretty tired.”

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Koch had competed in shorter distance races, ranging from 5Ks to half marathons, but this was his longest race to date.

A part-time Santa Monica, California, resident, Koch and his girlfriend had hoped to compete in the Los Angeles Marathon in February, but the race, citing visibility and protection (for him) concerns, wouldn’t allow him to use his longboard.

Luckily, Koch got in touch with the Calgary Marathon and they said they’d be open to having him compete in their race.

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"I was super keen to make it work," Kirsten-Ellen Fleming, executive director of The Scotiabank Calgary Marathon, told TODAY. "Per our rules we only allow racing wheel chairs, but in addition to Chris' longboard we also had participants using hand-cycles in this race. Our mandate is to be accessible, and since the typical device is not an option for Chris, we were keen to accommodate him in the race."

After several meetings, Fleming's team came up with a plan for Koch. He would be accompanied by a cyclist and would wear a bright yellow shirt. Course marshals also reported when he had crossed certain mile markers.

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"We're a smaller race so we have a bit more flexibility than other marathons," explained Fleming. "It was special for me to be a part of his journey and get to know him over the past few months."

Fleming wasn't the only one inspired by Koch: She noted participants were crying at the finish line, in awe of what he had accomplished.

“The amount of support I received from the other runners was awesome,” Koch said. “They were happy to see me out there and recognized that my long board wasn’t an advantage, but a way for me to participate.”

A big part of Koch’s efforts was to raise awareness and open up a dialogue about people living with disabilities. He wanted to prove that he could complete the race — and do it safely. Koch noted that mobility aids aren’t exclusively wheelchairs — there are other devices and tools that help people get around — and he would like to see races become more inclusive in the future.

Koch is now the second person in his family (after his mother) to finish a marathon, and he hopes that his story will inspire others to work towards a similar goal.

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“I wanted to prove to myself and to others that I could do this,” Koch said. “I also wanted to challenge other people to get outside of themselves and try stuff like this. It’s what my motto, ‘If I Can,’ is all about — if a guy without arms and legs can do this — you can do it!”

Koch’s fundraiser page is still active, and he plans to donate all proceeds to a local charity that fights to end child and family homelessness.

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