When Jessica Cox was a little girl, she imagined herself being Superwoman. Swinging on her elementary school’s playground at recess, she envisioned herself flying, sharing her superpowers with all of her friends.
On Thursday evening at Utah State University, the power Cox shared wasn’t imaginary. Giving the keynote speech during the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences’ Spring Dean’s Seminar, Cox presented an inspirational message of perseverance and determination. When she envisions herself flying today, she’s piloting a 1945 Aircoupe. And she’s doing it without any arms.
“The greater the challenge, the greater appreciation you have that you accomplished it,” Cox told a crowd that filled the Taggart Student Center’s Sunburst Lounge. “Walls are only there to stop the people who don’t want it bad enough.”
From learning to tie her shoes to earning a blackbelt in taekwondo, Cox said “thinking outside the shoe” has been a critical component of her life. In order to achieve independence, she had to find innovative ways to accomplish everyday tasks that most people take for granted—getting dressed, driving a car, opening a can of soda. She also surfs, scuba dives and rides horses, refusing to believe the words “I can’t.”
“My feet became my hands and my toes became my fingers,” she said. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Cox, who is the first armless person in aviation history to become a certified pilot, also spoke about overcoming anger, self-doubt and fear in order to achieve her goals. Although she wore prosthetic arms for 11 years, Cox gave them up at age 14 because she felt like they held her back.
“Fear is nothing more than false evidence appearing real,” she said. “What are your own fake arms? What is holding you back?”
Brandon Ellis, a USU student from Colorado who is studying business, took Cox’s message to heart.
“It was wonderful. It was really inspirational,” he said. “For all the dreams and aspirations that I have, I have no excuse not to attain them, not to make them happen in my own life.”
Ella Parish, a Cache Valley 10-year-old who shares Cox’s childhood dream of flying, agrees. Waiting in line for Cox’s autograph, the fourth grader’s spirits were soaring.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I got a lot of information that I would need to become a pilot of my own. I learned that you create your own fears, and you can also destroy them.”
Parish was among a handful of seminar attendees who had the opportunity to ask Cox questions after she spoke—“Where is your favorite place to fly? Who inspires you? What makes you push through the dark moments?”
Cox provided down-to-earth answers, acknowledging times of heartache, frustration and fear. She also spoke of her faith.
“When I was a little girl, I asked my mom, ‘Why did God make me this way?” she said. “My mom would say, ‘Be patient, Jessica. God has a plan.’”
Cox’s plan, along with learning to slackline, is to continue sharing her story as a motivational speaker. Accompanied by her husband, Patrick Chamberlain, she is helping people around the world recognize how to be “pilot in command” of their own lives.
“Fly the airplane first,” an instructor once told her. “Everything else is second.”
Jessica Cox’s visit to USU was hosted by the Alpha Eta Rho college aviation fraternity. On Friday, she will join the Center for Women and Gender during its lunchtime “Common Hour,” from noon to 1:00 p.m. in room 154 of the Merrill-Cazier Library (not room 208, as has been previously published). The public is welcome to attend. More information about Cox’s personal story is available at <a href=”http://www.jessicacox.com/”>www.JessicaCox.com</a>.
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