Last week Jessica Cox made a whirl-wind trip through Alaska, and inspired young and old alike. If you are not familiar with Jessica’s story, she was born without arms but hasn’t let that stop her not only from living independently, but achieving her dreams. She does with her feet all the things we do with our hands. But there’s more. She also drives a car (without special accommodations), and fly’s an aircraft—an Ercoupe—as a Light Sport
Pilot. Jessica’s real gift is the ability to share her story with others, in this case teenagers, and motivates them not to be bound by their own perceived limitations.
For the two-and-a-half days Jessica and her husband Patrick were in Fairbanks, I had the pleasure of transporting them to a variety of speaking engagements, which included two charter schools, the Boys and Girls
Home of Alaska, Hutchison High School, and a public lecture at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The biggest event was a banquet presentation with youth from a variety of groups including Boy Scouts, Civil Air Patrol Cadets, a high school Marine ROTC group, 4-H club members, and more.
Jessica does an outstanding job of using her own personal story to convey important lessons for youth. I won’t steal any of her thunder, but these include figuring out how to do what those of us with arms and hands consider trivial—like fastening a four point seat belt harness in the pilot’s seat before her first flight lesson. One has to look at each new challenge and, as she says, “think outside the shoe.” She also touches on the need for persistence, such as having to take her driver’s test more than once to convince the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles to issue her a driver’s license. But perhaps most
importantly, not to let yourself (or others) tell you what you can’t do—like learn to fly an airplane. AOPA is happy to reinforce that notion with programs such as the AV8RS, a free online membership for teens interested in aviation.
Jessica’s visit didn’t just “happen.” The dynamo behind the scenes
that brought her to Alaska, is Dee Hanson, Executive Director of the Alaska Airmen’s Association. Dee
brought Jessica to Alaska in 2010, knew the power of her message, and wanted to make sure it got to youth in other parts of the state. In addition to Fairbanks, Jessica made appearances in southwest Alaska at Bethel and Napaskiak, and flew to the Yukon River community of Galena. Alaska Airlines and ERA Alaska helped sponsor the visit, along with long list of businesses, aviation groups and individuals. But without Dee investing hours of her time putting this package together, this campaign wouldn’t have happened. Hats off to the Alaska Airmen’s Association for making this investment in the youth of Alaska.
And a big Thank You to Jessica for fitting us into her busy schedule. I look forward to her next visit.