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Jessica Cox: Without Arms, Without Limits

It’s only right that my first post here should be about someone unforgettable. This woman is A.MAZ.ING. Made me feel like I can do anything. I mean, if she can fly a plane armless, why can’t I drive a car (without hitting a tricycle)? Or learn Photoshop and InDesign? I have both arms, flabs and all! I really should try to do more (And then I hear Yoda in my head: “No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” )

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Jessica Cox.

The world's first licensed armless pilot is a Filipino-American.

The world’s first licensed armless pilot is a Filipino-American.

She has no arms but she can fly. Born armless to a Filipino mother and an American father, Jessica Cox never had anything easy. But she didn’t think anything was too hard either. At 14, she stopped using her artificial arms and decided to rely solely on her feet. But they must be an incredibly awesome pair because Jessica has since earned a black belt in taekwondo, learned to drive a car and fly a plane, completed a degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona (she used her feet to type academic papers), and now travels as motivational speaker to inspire others. Last year, she married Patrick Chamberlain, her former tae kwon do instructor.

A documentary about Jessica’s life, titled Rightfooted, is in the works and set for release on DVD by 2014. The last part of the documentary will be filmed in Ethiopia. Jessica is raising $30,000 to fund her trip with Handicap International. See how you can help here.

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What’s the most difficult thing to do without arms? 

This is how she puts on mascara.

This is how she puts on mascara.

Ponytails. Fortunately, my husband has learned how to do ponytails.

Was there ever anything you tried to do but couldn’t because you had no arms? 

I don’t believe there is anything that I cannot do. However, there are a few things that I have not figured out how to do yet.

Does it take you the same amount of time to do things with your feet that others do with their hands?

Putting on clothes tends to take more time than anything else. For the most part, everything else takes the same amount of time.

You do everything with your feet. Don’t they ever get abused? 

Jessica had artificial arms with hooks until age 14.

Jessica had artificial arms with hooks until age 14.

In the same way that people don’t abuse their hands, I don’t abuse my feet. Ideally I like to have pedicures every two weeks but that doesn’t always happen. However, I like to pamper them when I can. And I’m washing them all the time.

Growing up, how much did your environment contribute to your empowerment or frustration? 

I realize now that had I not initially been given the opportunity, I would not know what I could accomplish and what is possible.

Were you ever bullied as a kid?

I was bullied because of the fact I didn’t have arms. My best way of dealing with it was ignoring the bully and having friends who supported me.

What does your mom like to tell you about the Philippines?

She tells me stories of how resilient the women in our family are.

Do you have a particular trait or taste that you think is definitely “Filipino?” 

I tend to be a workaholic and love pancit.

You’ve met so many VIPs. Were you ever starstruck with anyone? 

What I met Sully Sullenberger, the commercial pilot and American hero who landed on the Hudson River, I was starstruck.

With (then) Pope Benedict XVI

With (then) Pope Benedict XVI

On the plane, Sky Sprite

On the plane, Sky Sprite

How difficult was it to train to be a pilot?

Training to fly was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It took a lot of psychological and physical strength. However, the experience of flight was worth it all. In the end, it took four different airplanes, three flight instructors, and three years to get my sport pilot certification. I usually get to fly once a month.

Jessica and Patrick's wedding, May 12, 2012.

Jessica and Patrick, May 12, 2012

How has your life changed since you got married? 

I have someone to share in the joys and challenges of being a motivational speaker, and I have all the back scratches I want.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a motivational speaker?

When I was a sophomore in high school I was invited to speak to a group of seventh graders. After sharing my story, I realized what an impact it had on others. Later in college, I decided to pursue motivational speaking as a career.

You’re off to Ethiopia with Handicap International. What do you hope to achieve there? 

I hope people can understand that even with a disability, anyone can be a whole person. When I go to Ethiopia, I plan to assist Handicap International with their inclusive education program. On average 1% of children with disabilities in Ethiopia attend school. Together, Handicap International and I plan to change that by working with the students, their teachers, their families, their community, and political leaders.

What do you think do the differently abled in poor countries like Ethiopia and the Philippines need most? 

Basic education and opportunities.

How did the idea for the Rightfooted documentary come about? 

When Patrick and I were making a trip to Southern California, I heard that a fan wanted to meet. Nick had just released a new documentary about an early female aviator and heard about my story in the making of his film. I have always dreamed of making a motivational and inspirational documentary and when we finished our conversation, Nick wanted to document my wedding, my life and the impact it has had on so many people.

During filming, what struck you most about the places you’ve visited?

We have filmed in Southern California for my wedding, in my hometown of Tucson for flying, working, living and my first skydive, and in Kansas City for a flying event for children with disabilities. The final segment we want in the film will be my trip to Ethiopia. What stuck with me most is that, universally, everyone needs hope.

Surfin' USA!

Surfin’ USA!

 

JUST FOR FUN: Fill in the blanks

The first time I fell in love was when I walked into a party and heard my future husband playing the piano.

When I’m happy, I sing this song in my head: Gloria

My comfort food is ice cream

If I were an actress, I’d love to play opposite Brad Pitt because he’s hot.

My latest favorite purchase is my new Dodge Durango SUV.

The most fun I’ve had was on vacation in Maui Hawaii. I went snorkeling and surfing for the first time, and on a cruise on one vacation.

 

 

 

 

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