Jessica Cox was born without any arms, in Sierra Vista, Arizona in 1983. Her birth raised many questions, one of them being if she could live a normal life. However, with constant support and encouragement from her parents, Jessica was able to accept her bodily difference and believe in her strength to attempt something that others thought impossible.
Jessica initiated her journey of adventurous explorations at a young age. At the age of 14, she earned her first Black Belt in the International Taekwondo Federation. During her college years, she came across ATA Martial Arts Club and resumed her Taekwondo training. Jessica then became the first armless person to earn a black belt at the ATA. After graduating high school, she attended the University of Arizona for a bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
Although encountered by numerous barriers, Jessica was able to gain her pilot's license on 10 October, 2008. She set the Guinness World Record for being the first woman to fly an airplane with her feet in 2008. Having traveled to different parts of the world and encouraged people through her stories, Jessica now works as a motivational speaker.
The Guinness World Record holder shared her inspirational journey with My City’s Sonam Lama.
How would you introduce yourself as an individual?
I think I am an adventurous and spontaneous person, taking on new challenges. For me, sitting still is a really hard thing to do as I like to keep moving and take on new obstacles that stretch my limits. That’s just the part of who I am despite the fact that I don’t have arms. I am a stubborn person in a sense that if I am told I can’t do something, I definitely find the courage to take up the challenge.
What drew you to Nepal?
Handicap International invited me to Nepal and this is my first visit to the Asian region. I am in Nepal with my husband Patrick as the goodwill ambassador for Handicap International. It has been a wonderful journey to see some of the works that Handicap International is doing here for people with disabilities. I am also here to share my stories with the hope that I will inspire people like me to become someone of value.
What are your observations on the status of people with disabilities in Nepal?
We took a trip to some of the touristic sites. When we visited the tourist areas, we came across people with disabilities asking for monetary help from passersby. I was able to witness the disparity, but I have also witnessed how organizations like Handicap International make efforts to transform the lives of such people and help them get back on their feet by providing them with work opportunities. I observed that Handicap International has been helping people in Nepal come out of their comfort zone and create a normal environment for themselves.
What shaped you to become who you are today?
Many things have shaped me. From various discouraging situations to dealing with the challenges of having a disability, every obstacle had a profound effect in my life. My obstacles have helped me become resilient during tough times. It is also true that at times such obstacles made me frustrated. Although disparity is evident in many corners of the world, I am mostly spared of it because I live in the US. However, traveling to many disadvantaged places has made me realize the sorry situation of people with disabilities. It has also given me a greater purpose to spread my opinion on being independent and doing the impossible regardless of our physical differences. Handicap International has also given me a platform to show the world that anything is possible if someone is given adequate support and resources.
You have set the Guinness World Record as an armless pilot. What inspired you to go beyond your limit?
As accomplished as I am, this might not be the case for many people with disabilities. I’ve always wondered how many places in the world can give you the platform or the chance to become a pilot if you are born with a disability. It’s difficult to become a pilot even with a fully-abled body. So, I think one of the driving factors in my life is to be able to somehow break the barriers that exist for people with disabilities.
I was fortunate to be born in the right place with a wonderful family. Their encouragement has always contributed to my audacity to act beyond my physical limits. I also understand that not everyone gets the opportunities that I received. So I want to share with the world that if someone is given the support, they can accomplish many great things.
Do you look forward to making further travels to Nepal?
I am open to going anywhere in the world, but I might visit Nepal again. This is my first trip to the country and I’ve had a wonderful experience so far. If given an opportunity to come back, my husband and I would definitely like to visit Nepal in the days to come.
Any words of inspiration for people who look up to you as an idol?
We all have that point in our lives where we are baffled by the incessant pressure and challenges, be it from friends or family. But it is important to be able to accept our challenges and acknowledge our uniqueness. The first step is to embrace our physical differences and then to test our performing abilities. Disability is not inability and you have to be guided by the belief that “you can do it”. My friend from Handicap International had once shared with me a quote in a picture that read “Impossible actually means I am possible.” I think that is something you have to be able to understand, and believe in, yourself.