Jessica Cox signs
an autograph for 9-year-old Shaylee Boger, of Dickens, Texas, on
Jessica Cox said her father never once
shed a tear after she was born without arms.
“He never saw me as a victim,” she said, “and that has given me
the strength to be the person I am.”
Cox, a motivational speaker from Tucson,
Arizona, is the first pilot certificated by the FAA to fly with her feet
only, with no use of prosthetic devices or airplane modifications. She
spoke Tuesday at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2010.
Passing her sport pilot checkride flying
an Ercoupe on October 10, 2008, Cox now has about 130 hours in her
logbook. She said she looked at the first challenge of learning to fly a
plane—buckling the four-point harness—just as she looked at the
challenge of tying her shoelaces as a child.
After thinking about it for a while, she
sat on top of the seat, put the four buckles together, loosened the
straps and then slipped in. Next, using her foot, she put the shoulder
strap over the right shoulder, and then the left. Finally, she pulled
the lap belt in place.
“The most important thing I learned
then is that I always have to think outside the shoe,” Cox quipped.
With similar thinking and ingenuity, she figured out how to put on her
headset, to handle a yoke, to perform a stall, and to land.
Cox said she grew up using her right foot
as her right hand. She learned to play and to eat using her feet. Even
to pull her sister’s hair when she was mad at her.
At her first dance recital at age 6, Cox
said she wanted to hide her disability and be in the back row. But there
was no back row.
“I learned then that I had nothing to
hide and that there wasn’t anything wrong with being different,” she
said. “It’s something I’m proud of.”
For 12 years, Cox wore prosthetic arms,
which helped to carry a backpack. But that was the only good thing about
the artificial limbs, she said.
“They were hooks, they were plaster,
they were heavy, they were cumbersome, and I did better with my feet
than I did with the prosthetics,” she said.
Since flying into AirVenture 2009 in a
group of Ercoupes, Cox has gone on to reach other heights. She is now
scuba certified and rode her first horse. She has flown in the
Philippines and Guatemala, and on Monday she met with President Obama at
the White House. She has met countless celebrities and has actually
become one herself. Her story of inspiration is known throughout the
United States and in many foreign countries.
“But the most rewarding thing is that I
can inspire others who are like myself,” Cox said. “I’m mentoring
other people who were born without arms. It means a lot to be able to
share the ropes I went through, and to make things a little easier for
Cox hopes to become a sport pilot
instructor and someday to take a flight into space. But her immediate
goal—landing some seats for a Cubs game with her sister—should be a
lot easier to achieve.