She has been a true inspiration for people with disabilities, proving that they too can accomplish great feats when they choose to believe.
More Than Ordinary
Even with only three years of flight training, Jessica is able to and is qualified to fly a light aircraft to altitudes of ten thousand feet; something that truly makes her amazing (even the fact that she is able to fly at all), because of the complicated process that one needs to learn in order to be able to fly (even with arms). And yet, in spite of her ‘seemingly’ great disadvantage, Jessica has proven that anyone, if willing can do anything.
This is what makes Jessica such a remarkable person. There are some, who have the same condition as her, who would gladly wish away their life for having such disability—but not Jessica. She is very content with the life that she has, that she often says that she would never wish for another life. Jessica stood in the midst of her disability and turned something that was supposed to be a stumbling block to keep her down for the rest of her life into a stepping stone that enabled her to reach heights that she enjoys today—literally!
When asked in an interview what Jessica thought her life would be if she was born with arms, this is what she answered:
“I mean, I would have a whole different life. So there is really no way to know where to start on that, because this is my life and I wouldn't trade it for the world, to be honest with you. And so, to think about that, I don't even know if I'd want to waste the time to even think about how my life would be different, because I enjoy it as it is now.”
Probably the first and greatest reason that made Jessica the kind of success she is today is that she was able to face her fears and not allow them to get in her way. Born with a disability, Jessica spent her life facing more fears than a person with complete body parts would, but the obvious thing that positively separates her from them is the fact that she was never hindered by fear, allowing her to accomplish greater feats than a person with complete body parts would. An example of this was her fear of flying, which she often says in an interview:
“I think that it's important to not allow our fears to stand in the way of our opportunities. And for me, I had this great fear of flying. And I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Three and a half years later, after confronting my fear and saying I'm going to do it anyway, I'm now certified.”
Jessica’s determination to succeed and not let her physical disabilities impede her abilities are truly remarkable. Throughout her life, her family members and friends are always amazed by how Jessica never once shed a tear about her condition; instead, she is very determined to prove that in spite of her disability, she can live normally and become everything that she was created to be.
Jessica’s loss of arms came naturally when she was born in 1983 in Sierra Vista, Arizona to parents William Cox, a retired music teacher, and Inez Macabare, a nurse from Samar, Philippines. Jessica was born without arms, a condition that the doctors were not able to explain because Inez’s pregnancy appeared to be normal. When William and Inez first saw Jessica, they did not see her without arms; the love that they had for their daughter overshadowed the disappointment and sadness they felt when they realized that Jessica was going to have to bear with her condition for the rest of her life.
It was not long after Jessica became aware that she realized how different she was from the other children. As early as she can remember, Jessica often recalled how even though her childhood friends were very understanding of her, she still felt distanced from them because of her disability. There were some times that Jessica did feel a bit jealous of other children due to her condition.
In spite of this, Jessica never once felt sorry for herself and never got discouraged in dreaming big things in life. This was because of William and Inez’s undying efforts to always encourage and empower their daughter Jessica, by often telling her that her physical condition would never stop her from achieving great things in life. As Jessica matured in age, her parents kept on showering her that with all the love and care they could give; this all contributed to the development of Jessica’s confidence and security, which in turn enabled her to aim for big things in her life.
But it was not just Jessica’s family that was instrumental in helping her develop confidence in her. Growing up, Jessica was more than fortunate to meet people who not only made her feel ‘normal,’ but also helped build her up by treating her like a normal person. Among these encounters was one that Jessica had when she was very young: back when she was around three or four, Jessica studied dance and asked her instructor to put her in the back row. The teacher, determined to bolster Jessica’s confidence in herself, told her that there was ‘no’ back row, and encouraged Jessica to dance along the other students. After Jessica’s first performance, the crowd gave an applause that Jessica still holds dear up to this day. Because of this, Jessica was able to dance for the next fourteen years in her life.
Learning Taekwondo: An Achievement of a Lifetime
When Jessica was around nine or ten, her parents introduced her to Jim Cunningham, a well-known and respected Taekwondo instructor in their locality. Both William and Inez saw Taekwondo as a good means of bolstering Jessica’s confidence, and so enrolled her in the sport, fully confident in the potential that they saw in their daughter. When Jim learned of Jessica’s physical condition, he simply told William and Inez that Jessica would be more than physically able to learn Taekwondo like any other person and that only her attitude and perspective would hinder her from being able to do so. When Jessica finally met Jim, he never once made any remarks on Jessica’s physical disability—Jim simply encouraged Jessica by telling her that she was more than able, and because of this, Jessica earned her first Black Belt in Taekwondo at age fourteen, becoming the first ever woman without arms to have achieved such feat.
When Jessica reached fourteen, she opted to stop wearing prosthetic arms as her feet are always been faster and more dexterous. Her prosthetic arms also became more of a hinderance than a help. Encouraged by her family and friends, Jessica kept on practicing the use of her feet and in a short while, became very proficient in having her feet do what her hands should have done had she any.
After finishing her high school studies, Jessica entered the University of Arizona to study Psychology. Jessica’s determination to succeed helped her greatly in her studies, as at this time Jessica was already very comfortable and used to using her feet to do what her hands should have done if she had them. When she was interviewed why she chose psychology as her course in college, Jessica simply answered that through studying psychology, she was able to understand the relationship between the human mind and the body’s capability.
While attending the University of Arizona, Jessica got back into Taekwondo and earned herself another black belt in the American Taekwondo Association. This accomplishment meant a lot not just for Jessica, but also for future potential armless students as the ATA committee created a curriculum that would cater to them.
Overcoming a New Challenge
Jessica graduated from college in 2005 and earned her bachelor’s degree and in November of the same year she started the Jessica Cox Motivational Services where she became a motivational speaker. She then encountered the next and probably the greatest challenge in her life: flying. Initially, Jessica was apprehensive at the idea of her learning how to fly a plane because of the fact that it has never been done before, but after receiving encouragement from her family and friends, finally decided to do it.
In an interview made with Jessica regarding her flight training, she said:
“Flying was my greatest fear. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'Identify your greatest fear and walk directly at it.' And that's how it has been for me as a student pilot and learning how to fly an airplane. The first time, a fighter pilot, he came up and asked me if I would like to fly, and I didn't answer right away because it was my fear. But, when someone offered to take me up in a Cessna for the first time, I thought about it for a while and said what great opportunity, to attempt to fly an airplane.”
Of course, it was not easy. Throughout Jessica’s three-year training she moved through three states, trained under three certified flight instructors (one of which was the famous Parrish Traweek), and stepped inside four different airplanes. The training was very challenging and difficult, especially for someone like Jessica. At times, Jessica felt very discouraged, to the point where she thought of quitting altogether, but she did not. In spite of her initial failures, Jessica maintained her passion in learning how to fly a plane using only her feet. Her experiences during the training helped develop her determination and persistence, and after three years of training, in October of 2008, Jessica finally received her license in flying.
Years later, when Jessica was interviewed about how her training went, she simply said:
“I have never known the true meaning of determination and persistence until I started my flight training. Due to airplane logistics, it not only took me three years to do what some people could accomplish in six months but it also required four Ercoupes, three certified flight instructors, 89 hours of flight training in three different states (Florida, California, and Arizona) to become the first person to be certified to fly an airplane with only my feet.”
Newfound Fame and Passion
This extraordinary feat was not kept in the dark, and soon enough Jessica was featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not, a very popular show about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, as the very first woman without arms to have flown an aircraft. Later on, Jessica was included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first ever woman without arms to fly an airplane. Jessica not only became famous in the United States, but through her fellow Filipinos and the media also became a worldwide phenomenon for her achievements.
Since her childhood, Jessica has learned to do things that people with complete body parts do with their hands with her feet. She puts on her contact lenses, applies makeup and even drives her own car with her feet (and yes, Jessica is licensed to drive cars!). One of the attitudes that she developed in her day to day activities that she brought with her growing up was her creativity. Jessica often says:
“Creativity is something I use every time I step into the airplane. The first challenge of flight training was learning how to buckle my seatbelt. Through creativity and recognizing there is more than one way to do something.”
Motivating Others with the Power of Words
Jessica’s fame and influence allowed her to further her passion in life—to inspire others and help them achieve their dreams. Using her experiences, Jessica develop her career as a motivational speaker even farther so that she can encourage others by telling them that if she did amazing feats such as flying planes without her arms, how much more can people with complete bodies do extraordinary feats as well? Since 2008, Jessica has visited more than seventeen countries and have spoken to thousands of people, empowering them to dream big and pursue their goals in life. She hit the 20-country mark in the early months of 2013. In a lot of her speeches, Jessica would often say something like:
“I think that it is important not to allow our fear to stand in the way of any opportunity and stand in the way of achieving whatever we set out to accomplish.”
In May 2012, Jessica was married to Patrick Chamberlain, one of her instructors in Taekwondo. They have been engaged since 2011. Jessica and Patrick first met each other when Jessica enrolled in Taekwondo years before. The first time Patrick saw her, he saw the potential in Jessica that he agreed to train her so that she could do a special demonstration for the World Championships. After that event, Patrick got transferred to another martial arts school, but he never lost his attraction to Jessica. When they finally met again, Patrick proposed to Jessica, something which excited not only Jessica, but her family and friends as well who were always hoping that someday, Jessica would meet someone who would not look on the outside, but see her for who she really is—a complete person inside out.
Throughout her life, Jessica often says that the greatest achievement she has ever made is not the fact that she was the first person without arms to fly a plane, nor the first woman without arms to become a black belt in Taekwondo—it is the fact that she was able to overcome the limitations in her mind that were hindering her from achieving great things. In an interview with her, Jessica said:
“The achievement I'm most proud of is maturing from someone who was angry and upset about being differently abled, to now being able to celebrate that and use it as an opportunity to give hope and inspiration to people.”
Today, Jessica continues to amaze us with her motivational speaking. She frequently tours around the world, speaking in various conferences and events, constantly telling people to not let go of the dream they have on the inside. Jessica’s life story is an amazing inspiration that encourages us to see ourselves as more than able to achieve our dreams in life. If she was able to do it with her arms missing, how much more can we?
If you want to watch a film about Jessica's life as well as support her advocacies, you can visit the Rightfooted documentary website by clicking this link.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
Awards and Achievements
- 2008: Received her Pilot’s License, becoming the first person without arms to do so
- 2009: Included in the 100 Most Influential Filipino Women in the U.S. by the Filipino Women’s Network
- 2009: Featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not
- 2010: Received the Pilot’s Choice Award at AOPA Live
- 2012: Received the Susan G. Komen Inspiration Award
- 2012: Received the Filipino American Journal Award of Excellence
- 2012: Received the Outstanding Filipino Award
- Won the Guinness World Record for the First Woman Without Arms To Fly A Plane