As children, we’re told that we can do anything we put our minds to. “No dream is too big or too small,” people say. Even goals that seem well beyond reach are encouraged.
“I want to be president!”
“I want to fly!”
“I want to be an astronaut!”
But what do you tell a child born without any arms, who dreams of living a “normal” life? One where she can drive a car, fly an airplane, or do something as simple as tying a shoelace without assistance? As Jessica Cox proves, no dream is really too big or too small. The 34-year-old is definitive proof of what the mind can accomplish when one is determined to succeed despite insurmountable odds.
Born without arms due to a congenital disability, Cox has been underestimated from the moment she was born.”Ever since I was a kid,” she says. “people have always doubted what I could do.” But rather than letting being armless impose limits on her life, Cox never allowed herself to flounder in self-pity. The motivational speaker made the decision at age 14 to remove her “fake” arms and fully embrace who she was.
“It was a huge step for me to understand that it’s not about how people respond to me. It’s [about] how I carry myself,” she says.
For the most part, Cox carries herself like a two-handed person, but it didn’t come easy. There’s no guidebook that tells you how to drive a car, fly an airplane, or scuba dive without arms. Cox had to make those things up as she went along, and she worked tirelessly to find new, innovative ways of accomplishing tasks. Even learning to do seemingly simple things, like putting on makeup in the morning or playing catch with her dog, involved creative thinking, practice, and discipline. And she struggled at a young age with being more independent and self-reliant.
“It sounds like a simple task,” she says, “but for me, it took trial and error from the age of 7-8 when I started becoming more independent to the age of 17 or 18 to finally be able to be fully independent and do everything on my own.”
With so many doubting her ability to manage herself in certain settings correctly, Cox uses their skepticism as a powerful motivator to shatter limits that have been forced on her.
“If there’s something I want to do, I don’t think about the process, I think about the end result,” she says with a smile.
It’s that positive thinking that led to the Arizona-native getting a driver’s license without any restrictions. It was a proud moment for Cox, who says it’s essential for her to have the freedom to drive without assistance. As a motivational speaker, Cox travels the world to share her inspiring story and stand witness to what banishing the words “I Can’t” from your vocabulary can do.
“I wanted to have an unrestricted driver’s license because I wanted to drive an unmodified vehicle,” she says. “I have to have the ability to pick up a rental car anywhere.”
In 2005, Cox became the first armless pilot ever to fly a plane with just her feet. She earned her pilot certificate three years later. The accomplishment is even more awe-inspiring when coupled with the fact that Cox used to envision herself soaring through the skies as a child. Unable to climb the twelve-foot slide at her school’s playground, Cox did something different: she dreamed. “I would close my eyes and envision flying high above the playground,” she says. “And that planted the seed that would lead me to becoming a pilot.”
There’s a powerful sense of freedom, independence, and empowerment Cox says she feels when she’s flying.
“I’m doing something that not everyone has the privilege to do,” Cox says. “And that freedom of being in the air and doing something and knowing that I’m doing it on my own is incredible. That sense of independence, it was incredible.”
Pilot isn’t the only thing Cox has on her impressive resume. She not only holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, but she’s also a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo. And she’s a certified scuba diver and surfer.
“She’s pretty unstoppable,” her proud sister points out. She’s always been that way, her dad, William, adds. He knew at the hospital that his newborn daughter was going to conquer the world, sharing that the look on her face was that of a fighter.
“Her little round eyes looked like she was going to attack the world,” he says. “And she has been attacking it ever since.”
Despite the odds stacked against her, Cox has mastered what it means to live life without limits, and she’s always eager to use herself as living proof.
“I tell people all the time that the words ‘I can’t’ are the true limiters because when you say the words, ‘I can’t’ you set yourself up for failure,” Cox says. “It’s so easy to say those words, but it’s just an excuse for giving up. Once you start to say that, you start to believe it, and if you believe it, you’re going to limit yourself.”