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The cliché is “think outside the box.”  It means “thinking imaginatively using new ideas instead of traditional or expected ideas.”

But Filipino-American Jessica Cox, who was born without arms, tweaks the saying a little bit and says, “Think outside the shoe.” And this has been her battle cry since she was a young girl.

Jessica, 35 years old, related that when she was six years old, her problem was how to tie her shoelaces. It was an extremely difficult problem considering that she has no arms.

To be able to do it, she had to think outside the shoe.

Serving as an inspirational speaker at a Gala Dinner that capped the Region 3 East conference of the National Federation of Filipino Associations (NaFFAA) in Covington, Kentucky on July 31-Aug. 1, 2015, Jessica demonstrated how she ties her shoelaces and puts on her shoes.

The tying part was not the problem. She used her toes to tie things. She realized that as her toes had to be out of the shoes to tie the laces, she tied the laces first. These were tied loosely enough so that she could slide her feet into the shoes.

Later, she came up with the saying, “think outside the shoe.” But this is just one of the many innovative ways she had devised to overcome her physical disability – her being without arms.

With her innovative mind, she “disarmed her limits” and went on to chalk up many achievements that ordinary persons (with arms) don’t even dare to do or dream of. At the top of her list of achievements is her becoming a pilot. The Guinness Book of World Records listed her as the first woman to fly an airplane with her feet.

She was the first person without arms to get a black belt in the American Taekwondo Association (ATA). In 2014, she became the ATA state champion for her age division in forms. She has surfed, skydived, paraglided and earned her SCUBA certification.

She has a degree in psychology, and she has spoken to and inspired tens of thousands of people in more than 20 countries. She has been named one of the 100 Most Influential Filipino Women by the Filipina Women Network. She was recognized in 2012 with the Most Inspirational title by the Inspirational Award for Women in the United States. In 2013, she received the Inspiration International title in the United Kingdom.

Also in 2013, she was named by the Plane and Pilot magazine as one of their Ten Best Pilots.

Jessica related that in the years before she entered eighth grade in Tucson, Arizona, she used to wear fake arms. At that time, her family (which traces its roots to Guian, Eastern Samar, Philippines), had just moved to Tucson.

She wanted a fresh start, to be “the real Jessica, and the real Jessica didn’t wear fake arms.” Going to school on the first day, she left her prosthetic arms in the closet. “As I walked out of the door to the bus stop, I felt elated. At 14 years old, leaving those fake arms behind was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. I was making a statement…I was declaring myself to be the person God created me to be.”

Jessica believed her being born without arms is a blessing in disguise. She did not consider it a liability despite the fact that in school, she had been ridiculed and people pitied her for disability. But she turned her disability into a valuable asset.

She did not engage in self-pity, and instead she overcame her physical defect with innovation and faith in her God-given capabilities. And her never-give-up attitude has made a lot of difference in her life.

In a sense, Jessica is better than many of us because she is capable of devising innovative ways to do things. In fact, she has mastered the technique of thinking outside the shoe.


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