Conquering the World without arms
39-year-old Jessica Cox is a Pilot, Black Belt Martial Artist, Scuba Diver and World Traveller. Yet what makes her truly remarkable, as well as a Guinness World Record Holder, is the fact that Jessica was born armless, and thus completes her tasks with the use of her feet! In doing so, she has emerged as a Global Voice for people born with limb difference and regularly travels the world as a Motivational Speaker.
Jessica was born in 1983 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, USA with a rare birth condition of congenital amputation, and had to adapt to life with her feet. There were many questions at the time about whether she would be able to live a ‘normal’ life. However her father was insistent that he would never shed a tear about her birth condition as he had full confidence in her potential. With the support of her parents and family, Jessica grew up a confident young lady and continued to explore the world with her feet.
One day, her parents happened to meet a Taekwondo instructor named Jim Cunningham, who was briefed about her birth condition. His reaction marked a turning point – he stated Jessica would be more than physically able to participate in Martial Arts, and that only her attitude could hold her back. Never one to give up, she earned her first black belt in the International Taekwondo Federation at the age of 14.
After graduating from high school, Jessica attended the University of Arizona where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. When talking about her degree, she explains that psychology credits the way people think with having a greater impact on their lives than a physical limitation.
During college, Jessica joined an ATA Martial Arts Club and resumed training in the sport of Taekwondo. Even though she already had one black belt in a different style, she had to relearn new material for the ATA system. Beginning with her, the instructors created a standardized curriculum that would be accessible to any future armless students. Jessica then became the first armless person to earn a black belt in the ATA.
While 2 black belts in no small feat, Jessica’s most famous accomplishment was learning how to fly. It took three states, four airplanes, three flight instructors, and three years to find the right aircraft: a 1946 415C Ercoupe Airplane. Finally in 2008, Jessica earned her Light Sport Pilot Certificate. In 2011, she received the Guinness World Record for being the first person certified to fly an airplane with
only their feet.
Since then, she has traveled to 26 countries on 6 continents sharing her inspirational message and attending many of the largest aviation events in the world.
In 2019, a generous fan donated a 1946 415C Ercoupe with tail number N26R (two-six-romeo) for Jessica’s use. With an 85 horsepower engine, two seats for a pilot and copilot/passenger, a cruising speed of around 90 miles per hour, and a flying time of little over three hours, N26R is a fair-weather airplane designed primarily for local daytime flights.
After witnessing the impact that she created with her airplane, especially amongst the youth, Jessica decided to go one step further and design the first solely foot controlled airplane in history – The Impossible Airplane, by 2025. The modified 200 mph four-seat RV-10 (currently in development) will allow her to reach more people more quickly and epitomize the message that ‘Disability does not mean inability’.
A message she’s fast spreading worldwide with her nonprofit – Rightfooted Foundation International. Founded in 2017, RFI was created by Jessica to further her advocacy for children with limb differences and other disabilities around the world. The first project from the foundation was the YouTube channel – Life with Feet, which highlights the unique ways Jessica and her friend Tisha Unarmed navigate life without arms. Life with Feet garnered more than one million views on its videos in the first two years of release and continues to act as a resource for amputees across the globe.
In 2015, Jessica teamed up with Emmy Award winning filmmaker Nicholas Spark to produce a documentary chronicling her life – Right Footed, the Documentary. Throughout a difficult childhood filled with bullying and heartache, Jessica fought for dignity and independence. She now works as a mentor to children with disabilities and their families in the USA and abroad, helping them overcome their situation just as her mentor once helped her. It is a story about the power of inspiration and mentorship and about how everyone – those with visible disabilities and those without – can find the strength within themselves.
After more than 50 film festivals around the world, Right Footed won 14 major awards including Best Social Impact at the Hollywood International Film Festival. It was also shown on National Geographic in more than 80 countries.
Jessica’s story has also been chronicled in her book – Disarm Your Limits. Published in 2015, it is her story about living without prosthetic arms and using her feet as other people use their hands. Using a simple aviation metaphor, she gives insight into how people struggling with courage, determination and creativity can overcome their challenges. Her ‘formula for flight’ is how Jessica achieved her greatest triumph – unrepentant regard and self-acceptance for herself as a whole person.
Jessica’s grit and triumph has made her an Inspirational Keynote Speaker across the globe. While motivating others to rise above their conditions and excel, she has been honored across various international forums such as: Inspiration Awards for Women: Most Aspirational (2012, USA) & Inspiration International (2013, UK); Distinguished Speaker Award from Egypt’s President at the World Youth Forum in 2019; Goodwill Ambassador, Humanity and Inclusion; and Goodwill Ambassador, Flight School Association of North America. In May 2012, Jessica married Taekwondo instructor Patrick Chamberlain in the beautiful city of South Pasadena, California. Today, she continues to live a fulfilling life flying planes, driving cars, and traveling the world. Not even realizing that her infinite courage has become a symbol of hope for millions across the globe.