THE world’s first armless pilot and first armless black-belt in the American Taekwondo Association has added another item to her ever-growing resume of accomplishments: the subject of a documentary depicting her life.
“This was a very important documentary to inspire so many other people, and at the same time it helps me share my life with the world to let them know that I’m happy, that I live a productive life, and ultimately anyone can and they can accomplish anything despite whatever challenges, whether they be physical, emotional or psychological. We can achieve great things and I’m glad to be able to share that in this documentary called ‘Right Footed’,” Jessica Cox said before a screening of the film at the Hollywood Film Festival on Thursday, Sept. 24.
Cox, 32, was born in 1983 without arms due to a rare birth defect. Yet despite that challenge, the Fil-Am is able to write, drive, put on her contact lenses with her toes, type 25 words per minute, eat with chopsticks, tie shoe laces, swim, fold clothes, pack a luggage and juice an orange, among a number of other things the average person is able to do.
In “Right Footed,” Cox demonstrates a great number of activities she is capable of and even shares personal episodes, like how she felt angry and selfish when she was younger, and footage from her wedding day. The documentary reveals that she was fitted for prosthetic arms when she was 3 years old, which led her peers to call her names such as “robot girl.” Eventually, she decided not to use the arms, which she said felt like a “jail cell.”
Today, Cox has been a motivational speaker for 10 years and continues to do so. “Right Footed” shows her journey from being a speaker, to a mentor for children with disabilities, and to disability advocate who helps share the voices of people with disabilities worldwide.
The film has so far won the title of best documentary at the Mirabile Dictu Film Festival in Vatican City in Italy.
“Jessica’s story is an inspiration to people all around the world,” said Jeff Meer, executive director of Handicap International, a non-profit organization Cox has been involved with for about two-and-a-half years. “Handicap International works with hundreds of thousands if not millions of people around the world who are drawing tremendous inspiration from the work that she does. In particular, her work inspiring kids who are differently abled to go to school is a real model for what we’d like to see all over the world.”
“Right Footed” also follows Cox during a visit to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan destroyed Tacloban City in 2013. With familial ties in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, where her mother is originally from, part of the film is devoted to the time she spent in the area.
“My story, my message and my inspiration growing up that all is linked to the Philippines. And resilience that my mother had, being born and raised in Eastern Samar and all the challenges in her life, they ended up helping me and her resilience ended up becoming my resilience and helped me to aspire and break through all the barriers” Cox said.
Nick Spark, who directed the film, noted that “Right Footed” conveys Cox’s pride in being a Fil-Am.
“[An] extraordinary part of the movie takes place in the Philippines and I think one thing that’s really apparent about this movie is it celebrates someone who is incredibly proud to be a Filipino-American and somebody who is very active in that space. But this is somebody [whose] core values are all about being a Filipino-American,” Spark said.
While the documentary was received positively among viewers during its Thursday screening at the Hollywood Film Festival, Cox admitted to feeling a little bit “exposing” by opening up in a “very vulnerable way” at the start of the project.
“[And] I’m a person who values my privacy and I have always been that way my entire life. So it took kind of stepping outside of that and realizing what this could do for people, how this could inspire people. At the same time it was almost redeeming for me because I grew up my entire life having to explain to people … I can do things just fine, and here I am showing it on a large scale to audiences in hundreds and thousands I’m able to do what it is and I felt so compelled to do as a child. When I’d get frustrated and people would see me and feel so sorry for me and I didn’t want that pity, I wanted them to see that [I] have a wonderful life, wonderful family, my parents, my husband. Being from a Filipino culture, I have that support system and that resilience,” Cox said.
With the documentary out, Cox is now busy helping distribute the film, but she’s also looking to continue to do motivational speaking and promote her new self-help book, “Disarm Your Limits,” which came out in March.
“I think what’s next is to continue to do motivational speaking, get the book out there and also to continue to inspire, as we are doing, more on a personal level,” Cox said.
She’s also tackling archery and thinking about taking on a new challenge, perhaps high-performance driving and a flight across the country, citing she has only flown in Arizona.
“Right Footed” will be screened at more than 20 other film festivals across the United States.