March 2014

Jessica Cox: I used to be afraid to fly

MANILA, Philippines – She has received global recognition for being the first woman to fly an airplane with her feet, but Jessica Cox, the Filipino-American who has been cited by Guinness World Records for her exceptional ability, yesterday admitted her skill was borne out of fear.

According to Cox, she used to be afraid to fly.

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Jessica Cox demonstrates one of the many things she can do despite her disability

But with a strong faith in God, she challenged herself to face her biggest nightmare.

After three states, four airplanes, two flight instructors and a discouraging year to find the right aircraft – a 1946 415C Ercoupe Airplane – she finally made it.

“I challenge you to never give up. Persevere. Be persistent. Overcome fear. We create our own fears but we can overcome them,” she told her kababayans in a meet-and-greet at the Skydome in SM North EDSA yesterday afternoon.

The 30-year-old Cox was born without arms. Dubbed as the “woman who beat all odds” and awarded as one of 10 best pilots by Plane and Pilot Magazine, Cox travels the world as a motivational speaker.

Citing a very supportive family, she attributes her being a fighter to her Filipino roots.

“I give credit to the strong people in my life – my family, my folks from Samar. My strength is part of the Waray in me,” she said.

Defining moment

Born in 1983 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, Cox became confident in herself as an adult and continued to explore the world with her feet – with the support of her parents and family.

As a child, Cox studied dance in her hometown. During the first performance, she asked to be put in the back row.

Her dance teacher, however, told her there was no back row.

Tentatively, she took the stage with the other students and performed her routine. When she finished, the applause from the audience gave her enough encouragement and confidence to continue dancing for 14 years.

Black belt

Her parents eventually met a taekwondo instructor named Jim Cunningham.

When told of her birth condition, Cunningham said Cox would be more than physically able for the sport and only her attitude could hold her back.

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At age 14, she earned her first Black Belt in the International Taekwondo Federation.

After graduating from high school, Cox attended the University of Arizona where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

She said psychology explains how the way people think has an impact on their lives greater than physical limitations.

In college, Cox found a club of the American Taekwondo Association (ATA) and resumed training in the sport. Even though she had one black belt in a different style, Cox had to relearn all of the color belt materials. The instructors created a curriculum that would be accessible to future armless students.

Cox then became the first armless person to earn a black belt in the ATA.

According to the committees on women and disability affairs of SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Supermalls which organized the meet-and-greet event yesterday in celebration of Women’s Month, Cox exemplifies the woman who defies all limitations and biases to live her life to the fullest.

The committees added that Cox’s achievements show an extremely courageous and determined individual who not only beat all odds, but has become a great source of inspiration.