Jessica Cox flies an airplane with her feet. Although she may have been born without arms, Jessica didn’t allow her difference to defeat her. Instead, she flew in the face of societal expectations and achieved her pilot’s license.
Today, the 37-year-old pilot inspires others—especially the next generation of ambitious young women—with an empowering story and by touring the world as a motivational speaker. Her message: “Never give up.”
“Difficult to Be Different”
“There has been no medical explanation for why I was born without arms,” Jessica told The Epoch Times. “In fact, it wasn’t even linked to a genetic condition. My brother and sister were both born with arms.”
Born in Arizona in 1983, Jessica was made all too aware of her physical difference from an early age. She was teased by her classmates at school and had to endure standing out for using specialized classroom equipment. She said it was “very difficult to be different,” and she even tried prosthetic arms.
However, after enduring 11 years wearing the hot, heavy cosmetic limbs that others expected her to wear, Jessica realized that her natural proclivity for using her feet was a much more effective way to live. At age 14, she abandoned the prosthetics and forged ahead with the extraordinary adaptive capabilities of her own body.
“Nearly every day, I was underestimated,” Jessica reflected. “People always assumed that because I didn’t have arms I couldn’t participate and do everything.”
Jessica’s parents, however, helped convince their daughter that she had it in her to achieve anything she wanted. “It became part of my every day to prove that I could do anything,” she recalled.
An Ambitious Child
Jessica was driven and ambitious. “As a child, I did so many activities,” she said. “I participated in dance lessons, swim lessons, Tae Kwon Do, and modeling.” Jessica found endless ways to modify activities so that she could use her feet and legs in the absence of upper limbs.
Jessica was also fascinated by medicine and toyed with the idea of attending medical school to become a doctor. However, on a mission to push herself beyond her limits, she decided to pursue an entirely different career path as a way to overcome a long-held fear: flying.
“I didn’t always like flying,” Jessica admitted. “It was actually terrifying to me. But I have grown to love it and every time I have the chance to fly, I am happy for the rest the day.”
As her love for flying grew exponentially, so did Jessica’s desire to put herself in the cockpit. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in Psychology and Communication in 2005 and decided to pursue pilot’s training.
Taking to the Skies
Looking back, Jessica described her three years of pilot’s training as “one of the most difficult things I have ever done.”
“It is physically demanding,” she explained, “and for me, emotionally demanding as well, because of my fear related to it.” Jessica trained on small aircraft without modifications, using her dexterous feet and toes to work the yoke and throttle.
In order to stay strong throughout the training process, Jessica employed visualization techniques to keep her mind focused, her nerves under control, and her eyes on the prize. “I had to have a visual reminder of what I wanted to accomplish,” she said.
“I had a picture of an airplane on the backdrop of my computer,” Jessica continued, “and every day it’s been a couple seconds envisioning what it would be like to fly that airplane. The power of visualization helped me get closer to the opportunity to continue my training.”
“It also took persistence and a significant amount of repetition,” Jessica reflected.
Beside visualization, the aspiring pilot gleaned huge support from her friend and mentor, a woman named Barb. “[Barb] lost her arms in an accident and learned how to adapt using her feet to do everything,” Jessica explained. “She helped show me how to do some things that I have difficulty with, and continues to remain my role model.”
Three flight instructors, three different airplanes, and three years after her course of study began, Jessica achieved her goal. In October 2008, she became the first Federal Aviation Administration-certified aviator to fly an Ercoupe—a light sport aircraft—with her feet.
No Fears, No Limits
Jessica had overcome her limitations and insecurities and achieved a momentous goal. After several years spent enjoying the freedom of the skies, she decided to share her story with the world.
In 2015, Jessica published her autobiography “Disarm your Limits.”
“My autobiography is also a self-help book,” Jessica explained to The Epoch Times, “because I feel it is important to give people tools for them to succeed as well. I include principles that have helped me overcome my own obstacles and can help others to overcome their challenges.”
Jessica married her husband, Patrick, a Tae Kwon Do instructor, in 2012. Together, the pair continue to train in the martial art while Patrick supports Jessica in her myriad solo ventures, most recently in becoming a motivational speaker.
At the time of writing, the trailblazing pilot has already spoken at engagements in 23 different countries internationally. The crux of Jessica’s message is never to let fear stand in the way of an opportunity.
“Becoming a pilot was part of my message as a motivational speaker,” she explained, “and to be an example to others that they can overcome their fears.” The dauntless young lady plans to continue sharing her motivational message, and has even started life-coaching in order to help people one-on-one with their individual challenges.
Meanwhile, the pilot has also launched an open-access online community, Possible Thinking, to encourage others to stay motivated. “My message for women everywhere,” she added, “is to never give up on your dreams and work hard to achieve them.”
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