'Dare To Fly': Life lessons from armless Pinay pilot Jessica Cox

Rhys Buccat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 16 2017 10:39 AM

'Armless pilot' Jessica Cox holds her first inspirational concert in the Philippines. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - As young adults, we learned to stand on our own feet. Armless pilot Jessica Cox did the same. But she also eats, drives, and flies an airplane with her lower limbs. 

The 34-year-old Filipino-American motivational speaker held her first-ever inspirational concert in the Philippines Friday night, sharing lessons on how to conquer life's adversities. 

At the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City, she was greeted by a crowd of mostly young people, who cheered as the lady pilot put on a headset and opened a can of soda using her feet. 

Cox shows the audience how she wears a headset using her feet. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

Cox, who holds a Guinness World Record as the first armless person certified to fly an airplane, was featured in an award-winning documentary that talks about her innate resilience, tracing it to her mom's humble beginnings in Eastern Samar. 

So when Typhoon Yolanda ravaged the island in 2013, Cox and her husband Patrick Chamberlain flew to the country - not just to bring aid but also to remind Pinoys to be resilient and get back on their feet. 

Apart from flying a plane, Cox is also into surfing, scuba diving and has been a Taekwondo black belter since 14. 

During the inspirational concert, which also featured performances by acclaimed singers Yeng Constantino and Lani Misalucha, Cox shared three life lessons she picked up while she was "daring to fly." 

George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

"Without desire, persistence, and fearlessness, I would not have been able to conquer flying an airplane," she said. 

DESIRE 

Born with no arms, Cox realized early in her life that she would have an extraordinary childhood. For one, playgrounds didn't appeal to the young Cox that much. 

"Ever since I was a little girl, I would dream about flying. I would be in the playground of my elementary school angry and frustrated about my difference, why I was different from everyone else," she recalled. "Because of my anger and frustration, I would close my eyes and envision flying high above everyone else."

Jessica Cox challenges a member of the audience to open a can of soda without using his hands. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

At that moment, Cox vowed to fulfill this dream someday by becoming a pilot, a profession that requires rigid training and precision.

From putting on her headsets to buckling up her seat belt, everything seemed extra challenging for Cox. Guided by a strong desire, she eventually fulfilled her dream, even if it took three states, four airplanes, and two flight instructors. 

"It was the greatest feeling of freedom, empowerment, and independence when I was able to take off that airplane without anyone else beside me, becoming the very first pilot to fly a plane with her feet," she said. 

PERSISTENCE 

Before she could navigate the skies, Cox first had to hit the road. And applying for a driver's license was a test of persistence. 

"When we say 'I can't', we set ourselves up for failure. If we say, 'we can' or 'we will try', there's a lot more room for possibility. What we say becomes what we believe," she said. 

Cox talks about the hurdles she faced when she "dared to fly." George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

As she maneuvered the wheels with her feet during her driving test, Cox said the examiner seemed more nervous than she was. "I looked at him [examiner] and asked him if he has ever given a test to someone who drives with her feet. He said no. So I told him, 'You might wanna buckle up.'" 

That day, she went home with a driver's license. 

Unfortunately, her license was suspended after a week. The state required her to install special equipment and modifications in her car. But Cox persisted. After a month, she returned to the testing center with a modified car, which finally earned her a license. 
 
FEARLESSNESS 

For 11 years, Cox had to wear prosthetic arms and long sleeves to keep her condition from prying eyes. These, she said, enabled her to walk through the hallway and eat at the cafeteria without attracting attention. 

"Fear stands for False Evidence Appearing Real," Cox enthused. "We create our own fear. And if we create our own fear, we can also destroy our own fear." 

While they saved her from getting bullied, those fake arms had disadvantages, too. They were heavy, slowing down and limiting her movements. 

Jessica Cox wears glittering shoes which she tied herself before she went up the stage. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

So when she turned 14, the same year she received her black belt in Taekwondo, she decided to keep the fake arms in the closet and embrace her true self. 

Ultimately, Cox advised young people to always "think outside the shoes," and be bold and fearless.