World’s First Armless Pilot Flying With Her Feet | Jessica Cox
Jessica Cox, the world’s first armless pilot flying airplane with her feet. She was born without arms due to a rare birth defect. With her fearless approach she is not only a licensed pilot but also armless black-belt in American Taekwondo Association, a scuba diver, and a piano player.
“Handicaps are mindsets. Whatever it is that stands in the way of achieving something, that’s when it’s a handicap. I prefer to see them as obstacles or challenges. This is how I’ve been my whole life. I don’t know any different. I just live my life through my feet.”
Strong Pillars of Jessica Cox
When her parents saw her first, they were in shock; even the doctor couldn’t explain any reason for her defect. All previous pregnancy reports showed nothing negative, nobody could imagine something is wrong. In the entire struggle her parent’s courage and strength was remarkable and played an important role. They wanted Jessica to experience everything like a normal child and never stopped her from doing regular challenging activities.
Her mother became her biggest booster, often saying, “There are no limits to what you can do and who you can be.”
The Fearless Fighter – Jessica Cox
Jessica was enrolled in regular public school, rather than special needs school. She was extremely active in extracurricular activities. Participating in gymnastics by age three, swimming by five, tap dancing by six, and taekwondo at the age of ten.
“From tap dance lessons to taekwondo classes to swim lessons to modeling to Girl Scouts, every day after school I had some activity to do,” Cox said.
Because of her differences, she received unwanted attention and didn’t like being stared at.
“I wanted so much to be normal, and I was told too often that I couldn’t do something or that I was handicapped. … I absolutely resented the word ‘handicap.’ “
She has been doing all the things using her feet since childhood. Her parents wanted to make her feel more capable, so they convinced Jessica to use prosthetic arms. She embraced her mindset and never saw herself different from other children. One day she decided to relieve herself from prosthetic arms. That artificial support was not needed at all, she had something more powerful: inner strength.
“When I was young, my parents and doctors encouraged me to wear prosthetic arms every day. I was born without arms so using my feet is all I’ve ever known. I can eat with my feet, write with a pencil between my toes, drive a car and even put on my contact lenses with my second toe. So to me, using prosthetic arms was very foreign. They were slower and didn’t give me any sensations like hot or cold,” she said.
She learned to use her chin and shoulders as upper limb proxies and with proper stretching and leverage, and a lot of practice, her feet and toes started doing much of what a hand and fingers could do.
The Sky is No Limit
Graduating from the University of Arizona with a degree in psychology and communications in 2005, Cox began training to become a pilot. As nothing was easy in her life, this was also extremely difficult. She fought all the odds devoted three years to earning her license, while the typical person takes roughly six months.
She had three flying instructors, practiced 89 hours of flying and is qualified to fly altitudes of 10,000 feet. In 2008, Cox was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly an Ercoupe, a specific type of ‘light sport aircraft’ by controlling the ‘yoke’ with one foot and the ‘throttle’ with the other.
“There were a lot of questions, there were a lot of concerns, there were a lot of doubters on whether this was possible.”
Looking at her dedication and effort, 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.”
“When I first took over the airplane without the instructor,” she says, “it was the most incredible moment – the greatest feeling of freedom, empowerment and independence in my life. I looked down and saw that playground where I sat imagining all those years ago. I had accomplished my childhood dream.”
This incredible feat of bravery and ingenuity has won her numerous awards like:
- Guinness World Record: The Only Pilot to Fly With Their Feet.
- US Inspiration Awards for Women 2012: Most Aspirational
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.
Think Outside the Shoe
Today Jessica is a motivational speaker, and has spoken in 20 different countries. She counsels her audience to ‘think outside the shoe’ based upon her experience of creating unique solutions to own personal challenges. She loves her role as a motivator saying, “I want people to think, “Hey, if she can do so much without arms, then I can do so much more with my life.”
In one of the forums she has also said “I want to see more women piloting aeroplanes. There is a huge global demand for pilots and mechanics right now and women only account for six per cent of all professional pilots. I have spoken for and worked with several organisations in the US to inspire girls and young women to pursue a career in aviation. I would enjoy helping women in China, India and around the world realise the wonderful benefits a career in aviation can bring,”
Cox has set herself as a role model in front of the whole world and her journey is learning for every single person who is perfectly normal and still struggling with negativity in their life.
I also believe every person has visible and invisible challenges that can be your obstacle or opportunity; it’s up to you how you take it. Everyone had to face the fear of rejection at some point in their life. Everyone has done something to hide a part of who they are. It’s time to think outside the shoe and see how can you fly.
“It’s only human to have low moments in life because if you don’t, then you won’t feel the high, exciting times.”
~ Jessica Cox