On Global Filipinos: Born with no arms, Jessica Cox embraces life to the fullest

Tickling the ivories with her toes.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

Meeting Jessica Cox over breakfast was a heartwarming, inspiring event. With her feet, she autographed her bestselling book “Disarm Your Limits: The Flight Formula to Lift You to Success and Propel You to the Next Horizon,” and then gave it to me.

She was born without arms and thus began her incredible story of survival, courage and triumph.

Her Filipina mother Inez Macabare, from Mercedes, Eastern Samar, was so distraught when she saw her newborn baby with no limbs. Her father Bill Cox tried to console her. It was her mother who decided Jessica would not be denied the right to a normal life. She would just have to do things differently.

The young years were rough for parents and child. Jessica would throw tantrums and scream, frustrated about being different from other children and being unable to do things. Growing up in a small town in Sierra Vista, Arizona, she would hear her mother tell strangers, “Don’t feel sorry for her. She will be fine.” This gave her the self-confidence from a very young age: That she would, indeed, be fine.

As a baby, she rolled. As a toddler, instead of crawling, she scooted. Walking was harder because she could not hold on to things for support. Still, she learned how to walk when she was 1 and 1/2 years old.

She used her feet to do the things that her older brother Jason and younger sister Jackie did with their hands. A physical therapist trained her with feet exercises so she could do everything with the help of her toes. Determined to be independent and to take care of herself, she learned how to innovate. Thus, she learned how to tie her shoes, put on pants and shirts. With help from her parents, she learned how to use the bathroom, take a bath, comb her hair.

Baby Jessica with her mother Inez.

At 5 years old, her mother enrolled her in dancing school. She took to dancing but had to overcome her fear of performing on stage. After thundering applause, Jessica realized she enjoyed dancing and the appreciation of the audience. She danced for the next 12 years!

She learned how to swim when her aunt, her mother’s sister, urged her to jump into the pool. She did it out of a sense of adventure, and enjoyed it. Eventually, she jumped in the city high dive. And much later in 2009, she became scuba-certified!

When she was 10, her mother enrolled the three siblings in Taekwondo! Her brother and sister quit after a few months. Jessica stayed on and eventually earned a black belt.

They moved to Tucson, Arizona, when she was 14 years old, in 8th grade. In the new school, she decided not to wear her prosthetic arms. She felt she should be accepted as she was, a human being without arms. She would be free at last of her albatross. 

Taking a plane was one of her pet peeves; she was fearful of flying. But once, when she had to take a single-engine airplane to go to and return back to Tucson, the pilot asked her if she would like to put her foot on the yoke, which is like the steering wheel of a car. She did it and that was the beginning of her desire to become a pilot and fly a single-engine plane.

A red carpet pose.

It took a lot of flying hours to learn how to fly the antique airplane Ercoupe.  But Jessica was tenacious and patient with herself. And sure enough, three years later, she was certified as a pilot to fly a plane solo.

When she was sophomore in High School, she gave a speech to a group of underprivileged seventh graders. After her talk, many of the students came to her to tell her how inspired they were by her story. By that time, she knew that she would become a motivational speaker. So right after her graduation in college, Arizona Daily Star came out with the headline, “Armless Student Seeks to Be Motivational Speaker.” Her career took off and she has been speaking to audiences around the world.

Patrick Chamberlain came into her life through Taekwondo. He was the new teacher in her school but he was immediately attracted to her for her fearlessness. They started dating when he was transferred to another Taekwondo school so there was no longer the teacher-student relationship. They were married soon after. For Jessica, Patrick provided her with stability, balance and total support for her career and adventures.

When she was born, her father was rocking her in his arms when a woman came up to him and said, “You must be pretty special parents for God to bless you with a child like Jessica.” That pulled him through the turbulent times.

Knowing how instrumental her parents were during the early difficult years, she was inspired to start her own 501(c)3 nonprofit to help children and adults with disabilities who may not have the same support in their communities. Jessica started Rightfooted Foundation International five years ago to mentor, educate, advocate, and inspire children and adults with disabilities.

© The FilAm 2022

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