Think Outside the Shoe
On her first day of flight school, Jessica Cox put on her headset and buckled her harness – with her feet. Cox, a native of Sierra Vista, AZ, now living in Tucson, was born without arms. She managed flight school as she did every challenge, “I dissected it to one thing at a time and built on that until I was successful.” Now a woman of many achievements, Jessica earns her living as a motivational speaker.
She often shares the lessons she’s learned from overcoming childhood bullying, earning a psychology degree and becoming the only armless person to receive a pilot’s license, garnering her a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records. She devoted two years to earning her license, while the typical person takes roughly six months.
Her plane, a 1946 Ercoupe, was designed to accommodate WWII pilots who had been wounded in the war so that it could be flown with two functional limbs instead of the standard setup that requires both arms and feet. Her plane has no modifications to accommodate her disability. Cox expected more resistance from the aviation community when she began her training. Instead, she found a welcoming and supportive community. On the day of her final checkout flight, the FAA official told her “if you can fly an airplane safely with your nose, you can fly an airplane. If you can fly safely with your feet, I see no reason not to give you your certificate.”
Cox has built her career over a 10-year span, speaking in more than 20 countries around the globe. It’s become the family business. Demand for Cox’s appearances has grown so much that her husband, Patrick, works full-time to manage her bookings, media requests and travel demands.
She now counsels her audiences to “think outside the shoe” based upon her experience learning that in order to wear shoes, she needed to tie them first and then put them on. She hopes that others can see solutions to their own obstacles from her experiences of creating unique solutions to her own personal challenges. “I went from being very self-conscious to now where I embrace every opportunity. I’ve learned to work hard and with each achievement I earn, it makes me want to strive for more.“
When it comes to achievements, Cox has no shortage. She’s earned two Black belts and currently holds the rank of Third Degree and title as 2014 State Champion in Forms in taekwondo. She’s gone SCUBA diving in Bonaire and visited six continents. Cox wrote a book titled Disarm Your Limits, which became published in 2015. She describes it as “a wonderful story of resilience.” A documentary chronicling her life story, Right Footed, premiered at the Vatican in June 2015.
In the last few months, Cox has made her foray into stand-up comedy which she says “goes foot-in-foot” with her career as a motivational speaker. She’s learning to be more improvisational and “think on her feet.” She’s performed a three-minute routine at Laughs in Tucson. Perhaps you’ll soon find her at a comedy club near you.
As to her future, Cox says she plans to “absorb the opportunities” that come her way. Even the sky is no limit for Jessica Cox.
Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time.