Before Jessica Cox was born on Feb. 2, 1983, her parents, Bill and Inez Cox, knew that she was going to be a girl, but at the caesarean section delivery, everyone was shocked that she didn’t have arms.
“My father was pretty much the rock, because at first my mom didn’t know how to handle it,” Cox said. “She didn’t know why this happened. I was the first daughter and for her, that was going to be an exciting time. But after I was born, she had to worry about my future. She worried, how is my baby girl going to eat? How is my baby girl going to put on makeup when she gets older?”
With her feet, that’s how.
Cox, 28, of Tucson, Ariz., has overcome many challenges and learned to live life fully without arms, not even the prosthetic arms that she shoved in the back of a closet when she was 14. (“They handicapped me,” she said.) She wears slip-on shoes, keeps her feet well pedicured and approaches life with optimism and a sense of humor. “I have no hands-on experience with anything,” she tells audiences, and she has been seen wearing a T-shirt proclaiming, “Look, Ma, no hands!”
Cox danced for years as a child, was an honors student in high school and has a degree in psychology and a minor in communications from the University of Arizona.
She drives a car without adaptive controls, using her right foot on the wheel. She eats with her feet and puts on makeup with her right foot that has the dexterity of a hand. She also became the first female pilot in aviation history to fly with her feet, an accomplishment that earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
After she accepted that medal in Milan, Italy, she went to Rome and, on March 23, had the opportunity to present the medal to Pope Benedict XVI. And yes, she “handed” it to him with her foot.
Cox holds the title of the first person without arms in the American Tae Kwon-Do Association to get a black belt, and that love of martial arts changed her life in another way. She fell in love with an instructor named Patrick. They will wed next May.
Cox has been featured in several national news programs and talk shows and is a motivational speaker to business professionals, students, church groups and other organizations.
“I love giving my testimony and talking about my faith,” she said. “I truly feel like I have been blessed in many ways.”
Our Sunday Visitor: You had great support from your parents. What did they tell you about your early years?
Jessica Cox: They talked about my emotional challenges of being different, and that it wasn’t so much the physical challenges, because I learned to do everything with my feet and my feet became my hands.
I had no trouble fitting in and I had some very close friends from childhood. I had a core group of friends when I was growing up who treated me like they would any other friend. And my older brother Jason and younger sister Jackie treated me just like any other sister.
OSV: What was your biggest challenge while growing up?
Cox: Learning the physical task of dressing was a lot of trial and error. When I was 11, I wanted to be more independent and to be like other girls. My mom and physical therapist helped me to figure this out, and at one point, we used Velcro on the wall to hold clothes that I could wiggle into.
Balance is everything for me. Right now, I am carrying some keys, using my chin and shoulders to hold the phone and I’m standing on one leg and getting ready to go into a car.
OSV: Did you ever question God about your challenges?
Cox: I have questioned “Why me? Why would you make a child like this?” Especially when I was in junior high and high school when everyone wants to be the same. I was told that God didn’t create me without arms, but that God allowed everything to happen. That helped me to understand through those times when I wondered “Why me?”
Faith is really the foundation of everything. Nothing is as profound as my relationship with God and what my Catholic faith has given me.
OSV: Tell us about meeting the pope.
Cox: We heard about the papal blessing in St. Peter’s Square and we wanted to be among the thousands of people to see him. I had my medal from Guinness, and my brother was set on me giving it to the pope. He told the guards but we were told that he was surrounded by security. Three security guards later, they waved in me and my brother but he gave up his post to our sister, and we went up on stage where there were about 20 people seated.
We were at the very end of the papal blessing, and as we were walking up, the energy was incredible. People were crying and chanting “Viva il Papa!” Then we walked up and I had my medal in my foot and I reached up and gave it to him, genuflected, said, “Hello” and asked him for prayers. He said, “I will, I will.”
OSV: What is your message?
Cox: I have a gift to remind people of what they can accomplish and that life is really a gift that should not be taken for granted. You can be happy and appreciate the life you have been given, regardless of the situation.
We all have something that’s a challenge. We can choose to be happy and to live a very fulfilling life.
OSV: What do you want people to know about you?
Cox: I am a happy person and I am grateful. If I woke up tomorrow with arms, I wouldn’t know what to do with them. I feel complete as I am. I look in the mirror and I see myself as a complete person.
OSV: What are your plans for the future?
Cox: I hope to have a family someday. The challenges will be obvious, but it will just be a matter of figuring it out. I think I will be a good mother, with or without arms.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.
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