My name is Jessica Cox and two years ago, I got married. That may not sound that extraordinary but when I was a child I did not really think that I would tie the knot. In fact I did not think of really having relationships. You see I was born without arms and, like a lot of you who read this blog, I knew I was different. I knew the stares, too, when I’d eat with my feet. Anyway, maybe you can relate–I just wanted to hide away. I totally avoided dating. In fact I was voted “most shy” in high school and they actually labeled me that way in the yearbook. Can you believe that?
It wasn’t as if I lacked confidence. In fact, thanks to my parents I spent my whole childhood doing challenging activities. My Mom enrolled me in swimming and dance performance lessons, and even a Taekwondo class. “I don’t care if she doesn’t have arms,” I remember my Taekwondo instructor saying to my mother. “As long as she has heart.” I ended up getting a black belt and that gave me a boost of self-confidence. Doing challenging activities and pushing myself, helped me in so many ways.
Then when I was a teenager, something else happened. I saw a TV show that featured someone with my same condition — a young mom named Barbara Guerra who had lost her arms in a childhood accident. She had a baby and there she was changing the baby’s diaper. It was one thing to see her on TV but to be able to meet someone is another — and I made a connection through a friend of mine, we called her up. And then I went over to her house and wow, she was sitting there and I was sitting there. And I was like, “Whoa, this is really weird. It’s like I’m watching myself!” And for the first time in my life, I was watching someone do the same thing I did, pick up a cup with her foot. And here she was, married and, confident, and had a little baby. So it was almost like an awakening that I’d never experienced. It was a life changing experience for me.
Since that time I’ve done many things in my life including earning a college degree, and you may have heard about how I became the world’s only armless pilot by flying an airplane with my feet (that’s another story!) But what I wanted to share is how I met my husband Patrick. I went to the Taekwondo studio one day — I was working on getting my second black belt — and ran into a friend of mine. She gave me a big hug. Patrick, who was working as an instructor, saw me do that and thought I was being really rude by not taking my arms out of my jacket to return the hug! A few minutes later when we met, he of course realized his mistake…
So, I’ve been working as a public speaker and a mentor for several years now, and I often work with children with disabilities. This is how I became friends with three girls — Anna, Ira, and Teresa — who were all born with limb differences like mine. I’ve worked with all three of them, trying to challenge them so that they too, can develop more self-confidence. When Patrick proposed to me and we began to plan our wedding, I made sure to invite them as special guests. I had them there to share my wedding day, in hopes that maybe I could do for them, a little bit of what Barbara Guerra did for me. I don’t want to spoil it — because the wedding was filmed as part of a documentary about my life called Right Footed. You can see what happened for yourself, but I can already tell you it was wonderful!
Today I’m continuing to challenge myself. In the past few years I’ve learned to surf and I’ve done a parachute jump, and I became an ambassador for Handicap International and traveled to Africa and the Philippines, to do outreach work and share my story. I even went to Washington, D.C. where Patrick and I both lobbied members of the U.S. Senate for the passage of the CRPD, the first international disability rights treaty in world history. Not bad for someone once voted “most shy,” don’t you think?
You can see Jessica Cox’s wedding, her trips on behalf of Handicap International, and the incredible story of how she learned to fly, in the new, award-winning documentary film Right Footed. The film chronicles her journey from a childhood full of challenge, to earning her pilot’s wings and becoming a mentor for children with disability, and a disability rights activist. You can read more about the film and learn how to bring it to your community at the website www.RightFootedMovie.com