No arms, but she can fly

Having no arms has not stopped Jessica Cox from living a full life and inspiring others

Jessica Cox was born with no arms, but she has gone surfing, scuba diving and horse-riding and has even piloted a plane.

The 34-year-old Filipino-American, whose disability was caused by a non-genetic birth defect, has also mastered everyday activities such as driving a car, tying her shoelaces, brushing her hair and putting on contact lenses and make-up.

A motivational speaker who has toured more than 20 countries across six continents, she will give a talk in Singapore in January, her first public event here.

Over the phone from Arizona, where she is based, she says she is "thrilled and excited" to come here, and hopes to inspire people - especially those with disabilities - not to be limited by their circumstances.

She says: "I think society often tells people with disabilities that they do not have the capability to do things.

"But to me, the more you practise something, the better you get at it."

Always up for a challenge, Ms Cox does not let her disability hold her back from taking part in activities such as surfing.
Always up for a challenge, Ms Cox does not let her disability hold her back from taking part in activities such as surfing. PHOTO: ELLE SINGAPORE

Her confidence and optimism, she says, was inculcated in her by her supportive family.

Her father, 76, is a retired band teacher and her late mother a nurse. She also has a brother, 36, and sister, 31, who are able-bodied.

Cox says: "As a child, I would ask my mother why God created me this way, and my mother would reply it was because God has a great plan for me.

"Without my wonderful parents, I would not be the person I am today."

At age 10, she began learning taekwondo, and earned a black belt four years later.

In the early 2000s, she got a driver's licence and now drives a Dodge Durango by herself almost every day, controlling the steering wheel with her feet.

In 2005, she became interested in flying and started taking flying lessons.

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Three years later, she received a pilot's licence and can fly an Ercoupe, a plane with a unique design that lets Cox use one foot to man the controls, and guide the steering column with the other foot. That year, she received a Guinness World Record for being the first woman to fly an airplane with her feet.

Over the years, she has also amassed numerous accomplishments, from being a certified scuba diver to playing the piano to typing up to 25 words a minute with her toes.

"I like the challenge of doing something new and figuring it out. And for me, there's also this extra element of knowing nobody has ever done this without their arms."

This year, she is picking up slack-lining, an activity that involves balancing and walking on a rope above ground level.

"I love balancing and my goal is to eventually cross a long line over a canyon or body of water."

The psychology graduate from the University of Arizona is married to Mr Patrick Chamberlain, 32, a former taekwondo instructor who is now her manager. They have no children.

A documentary about Cox's life, Right Footed (2015), has aired in more than 80 countries, and about 6,000 copies of her autobiographical self-help book, titled Disarm Your Limits, have been sold.

Thinking back, she recalls that one of the most important decisions in her life was to stop using prosthetic arms at age 14.

She says: "It was the moment I could finally accept that this is who I am, and I should be confident about my difference.

"There were times when people stared at me and made me feel ostracised and different. But it has always been my goal to show people that I lead a very fulfilling, happy life."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 27, 2017, with the headline 'Confident about being different'. Print Edition | Subscribe