Knowing his unique sense of humor, when Jason Koger came by our offices to talk about his Handing Back event, I thought he might be wearing his “Look mom, no hands!” t-shirt.
Koger, as you may recall, lost both arms below the elbow when he came into contact with live electrical lines in a 4-wheeler accident in March of 2008.
He wasn’t wearing that shirt, but he did ask if anyone knew where he could find a two-seater bike for him and another amputee to ride across the stage to open the show.
“I thought that would get people’s attention – a guy with no legs pedaling and me with no hands steering,” Koger said, flashing his trademark smile.
Clearly, losing limbs is no laughing matter. But for Koger, it’s not a pity-party either. He has met his situation head on with down-home humility, good-natured humor, and an unbelievably positive attitude.
That’s just the kind of guy he is.
He actually does have hands – very high-tech, bionic hands. Last year, Jason was fitted with the i-limb Quantum, the first upper limb prosthetic that can change grips. In other words, he can pick things up using different pressures and squeeze back when he shakes your hand.
But even before he had bionic hands, Jason decided to get on with his life. Just one month after his accident, Jason was back in the woods turkey hunting. Because that’s the kind of guy he is.
As his inspiring story spread, opportunities began to present themselves. He was invited to appear on an episode of Hawaii Five-O that featured a scientist who had bionic arms and hands. Then came an Apple commercial. He recently was cast as an extra in Free State of Jones, a Civil War-era movie starring Matthew McConaughey.
But you’re not going to hear that from him. He’s not one to name-drop or brag about his accomplishments. That’s not the kind of guy he is.
“I want to share my story, because I want people to know you don’t have to give up. Everybody has their struggles. If I had given up and stayed at home, none of these opportunities would have happened to me. It all goes back to being positive and believing in God. You do that, and doors open,” he shrugged.
Now he’s using those open doors for an even greater good.
Two years ago, Jason decided to host an event called “Handing Back” to raise money for charity.
“This is my way to give back to this community that rallied around me and my family so much during my accident; financially, bringing us meals, every aspect you can imagine,” Koger said, explaining the motivation behind Handing Back. “When you go through an accident like I did, you wonder how you’re going to get through it, but knowing you have so much support behind you lights a fire under you, and keeps you going.”
The idea started with a visit from actor Peter Weller (Robocop, Star Trek, Sons of Anarchy), who Jason met while filming the Hawaii Five-O episode. After striking a friendship, Peter decided he wanted to visit Koger in Owensboro so he could see the community Jason kept talking about so much.
Jason recalled the moment on set that sparked it all: “Peter told me, ‘Jason, I’ve never met anyone that’s been through something like you have but still has such a positive attitude. You must have a good family.’ I told him I do have a great family, but I also have a great community. That’s when he said, ‘Then one of these days, I want to meet your community, because I want to surround myself with people like that.’”
Fast forward two years later, and Jason got a phone call from Peter on March 1, the anniversary of his accident.
Weller kept his word. While he was in town, Weller agreed to do an autograph signing at an event that was already scheduled at the Convention Center. The idea for Handing Back was born.
The secondary motivation behind Handing Back is for Jason to bring people he has met along his journey to Owensboro. “I want these people I’ve become friends with to see what kind of community Owensboro is. Owensboro is a special place. People care. When something happens, people step up.”
Handing Back is the combination of those two ideas: (1) bringing celebrities, actors and musicians to town to see Owensboro and (2) raising money for charity while they’re here.
The event is designed to be a full night of entertainment, featuring live bands with celebrity guest speakers and presentations in between each act as bands switch out equipment.
The first event (2014) drew nearly 1,000 people and generated $18,000, which was divided among seven local charities. Koger put a board together to decide which charities to support with the money.
The plan was to wait several years and do it again. But as word spread, bands and celebrities started asking to be a part of it again.
This year’s event was held at the Convention Center on Saturday, March 5. At the time of this printing, exact results had not been finalized, but Koger expects to donate $20,000-$25,000. The event is clearly successful.
As of right now, there is no solid timetable for the next event. “We want people to look forward to it. I don’t want to burn people out,” Koger explained. “We hope everybody enjoys it and looks forward to coming back. So if people are wanting tickets and sponsors are excited, then we’ll do it.”
Giving All He Can
Handing back is in his blood.
In fact, we had to push this interview back a day because Jason was talking with a new amputee who needed some support. Anytime Vanderbilt Hospital has an amputee, they call Jason to come and talk with them.
“I was there. That was me. I know what they’re going through. Now I want to help them. It’s just part of what I do now,” he explained.
Because that’s the kind of guy he is.
Announcements about future Handing Back events will be on Jason’s social media. Keep up with Jason at JasonKoger.com.