Samuel Koch – From A Life Of Extreme Sports To Life In A Wheelchair

By Solaire Hauser

[The links included in this article lead to German-language websites.]

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Koch at the presentation of his book in Germany, April 2012. (Source: Badische Zeitung)

HONG KONG – Samuel Koch, 25, who has been paralyzed from the neck down in an accident on the popular German TV show Wetten, dass …? two years ago, reflects on his life on the Austrian radio show Frühstück bei mir on Sunday.

“Sometimes,” says Koch in the interview on the radio channel Ö3, “maybe during the night, if I can’t sleep and would like to roll on one side or the other side; when I become restless and would like to move, it creates an inner unease, almost like claustrophobia, inside my body.”

In those moments, Koch tries to reason with himself, thinking about how lucky he is to have something to eat, a roof over his head, and telling himself that he can always get an assistant if he needs help. He has learned to deal with the restlessness at night, just as he has to learn to cope with other things in his new life.

How it all happened

On December 4, 2010, the former stuntman and acting student was one of the candidates on Wetten, dass …?, presenting probably one of the riskiest stunts the show had ever seen. The German TV format is a platform for people to bet. Bet that they can finish a bowl of water faster than their dog. Bet that they can survive being run over by 15 cars while singing “O Sole Mio!”. Or, in Koch’s case, that they can jump over cars driving towards them with 22 km/h by using jumping stilts, also called “powerizers”.

“I had been doing that jump so often that I almost knew it in my sleep,” writes Koch in his biography entitled Zwei Leben (Two Lives). However, millions of viewers were live witnesses when the stunt – for the first and last time – went horribly wrong.

Now Koch has to rely on a wheelchair, which was something the German, who had been in sports competitions since the age of 6, had to adjust to. Another thing he has to cope with, as he explains in Frühstück bei mir, is that he gets cold easily. Koch talks about one time when he took a plane, wearing four pullovers, after which he was still so cold that he had to lie on a water bed in a strongly heated room at home for some time to get warm again.

Still, when asked about whether he would do the stunt again in an interview by SPIEGEL Online in 2011, Koch said yes. However, there is also a part of him that thinks that he should not have done it.

In the radio show, he further explains that statement. If he would change something in retrospect, he says that “maybe I would try to act less reasonable and more emotional.” He explains that he made the decision to take part in the show mostly based on reason, thinking about the 40,000 euro (approximately 409,000 HK$) he would have received if he had been chosen as the winner at the end of the show.

He also adds that “an after show party with Cameron Diaz and Co. was also quite appealing.” Lastly, he thought about how he has been doing the stunt since he was 18 years old, often performing it for companies in order to earn money. “Companies quickly find something like that rather spectacular,” he says.

If he had listened to the bad feeling in his stomach, however, he reckons that he might have made a different decision.

Was the stunt too risky?

Koch’s accident drew a lot of media attention back in 2010, and both he and the organizers of the show had to face criticism about recklessness and security measures. In Sunday’s radio show, Koch denies having been put under pressure by the organizers of the television show. As for the allegation that he and his team should have known better about what could happen, Koch says that “the risk for me was, in the worst case, that I would break both of my legs.”

Now, more than two years after the accident, Koch looks towards the future. He has started studying acting again in April last year, according to a report by Focus, and currently stars in a theatre production of Nach Moskau?! (To Moscow?!), in which he plays a 60-year-old military surgeon. Some of his fellow students seem to think that the university is not the right place for him, he says in Frühstück bei mir, a view that he thinks some of his professors might share. Still, he follows the path he has chosen and is rewarded by the success of the production he currently stars in.

“My biggest compliment is that many people realized only after the play, or during the applause, ‘Oh, he really is in a wheelchair.’”

This experience, as well as the support of his family and friends, have helped Samuel Koch to get back his sense of humor and look at life in a positive way. He has also developed a certain liking for shoes, which first becomes evident at one point in the radio show, when interviewer Claudia Stöckl asks what he would have become if the accident had not happened. Koch jokingly replies that he would like to take up a job as someone who runs-in shoes for other people.

At the end of the interview, when talking about what he regrets in his life, he says “that I can’t run-in my shoes myself. And that they always look so new and unused.”

–> To listen to the radio program (in German), click  here.

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