Thinking outside the shoe with Jessica Cox

Cox ties shoes in light speed without using arms. Sept. 28, 2012. Alan Fearns/Sun Star

Alan Fearns/Sun Star Reporter
October 2, 2012

How do you greet somebody with no arms?  You shake feet.

This happened last Friday afternoon in the Schaible Auditorium, when Jessica Cox gave a motivational speech.  Cox, who does not have arms, told the audience how she overcomes obstacles in her daily life by “thinking outside the shoe”.

Cox has never let having no arms stand in the way of accomplishing her goals.  When she was 10 years old, Cox began practicing Taekwondo.  Four years later she was the first person with no arms to become a black belt in the martial art.  Cox passed her driver’s license test with ease at a young age, and has even learned to fly a plane.  Through these achievements, Cox has proven that she can live normally despite her disability.

“Never let your fears get in the way of your opportunities,” Cox said.

One of the first obstacles Cox faced was tying her shoes.  After learning the classic bunny ears technique, she had to find a way to put the shoes on on without them being too tight.  After figuring how to loosely tie the shoes and tighten when they are on, Cox realized she was “thinking outside the shoe.” This is her way of saying that there is always more than one way to accomplish any challenge.

Cox’s next topic was on the importance of having desire in order to have success. When Cox was majoring in psychology at the University of Arizona, she realized her dorm was missing a television set.  She strategically had to plan out a way to get a 32-inch TV out of her house and into her car without her dad noticing.  When her dad went out for his daily garden tending, Cox tilted the TV onto a rolling computer chair and made her way through the house.  When she opened the door, Cox’s dad was surprised by her determination and let her take the TV.

“If you have a desire, don’t let anything stop you,” Cox said.

Although Cox was scared by the thought of flying at first, she took the opportunity of learning to fly.  After 3 years of lessons, Cox became a certified pilot at the age of 21.  Last year she received a medal from the Guiness Book of World Records for being the first woman to fly with her feet in Milan, Italy.

“If we create our fears, then we can also destroy them,” Cox said.

Cox lives in Tuscon, Arizona with her husband Patrick.  She has spoken in 17 different countries and hopes to have the opportunity to speak in many more places.

“It’s already starting to resonate in me and inspire me in little ways,” said Kevin Alexander, Aviation Program Coordinator of the UAF Community Technical College.

When asked about future plans for prosthetic arms, Cox replied that she believes they are “phenomenal,” but has no future plans to use them herself.  Cox used prosthetic  arms for 11 years and left them in a closet on her first day of 8th grade.  The arms remain in the closet today.

After the presentation, Cox handed out flight lesson door prizes and spoke to other aspiring aviators with encouragement.

“I was thinking about some issues I’ve been dealing with that I thought were hard, I can’t believe it.” said Josiah Alexander, an electrical engineering student.

Resources for Cox’s trip were funded by the Alaska Airmen Association, who then sold sponsorships to Alaskan groups to cover the costs.  UAF was one of Cox’s sponsors, and coordinated her presentation in the Schiable Auditorium.

“Perhaps after hearing from Jessica, people will be more persistent in overcoming any challenge ahead of them in becoming a pilot or a aircraft mechanic,” Alexander said.

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