The Sporting Life: Life on her feet - Tucson Local Media: Import

The Sporting Life: Life on her feet

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Posted: Tuesday, April 4, 2006 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:52 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

April 5, 2006 - It was down a quail-riddled cul-de-sac in the Northwest, aptly named Magic Place, where Jessica Cox grew up like any other kid - a dancer at age six, high board diving daredevil as a teenager and a two-time black belt by the time she finished college.

A typical childhood by most standards with one exception: Cox, 23, was born without arms.

"Handicaps are mindsets, whatever it is that stands in the way of achieving something, that's when it's a handicap," said Cox. "I prefer them as obstacles or challenges. This is how I've been my whole life, I don't know any different. I just live my life through my feet."

To help her with her balance, Cox's mother persuaded her to become active in dance at age 5.

"She takes risks a lot of times," said Cox's mother, Inez. "She thinks she's indestructible." The willingness to take risks has led Cox to become an internationally incorporated motivational speaker. Always the quick learner, the formerly shy middle and high school student is making a living speaking to audiences ranging from elementary students to nursing home residents.

No matter the audience, Cox's message is always the same.

"My message is that disabilities are not limited to physical," said Cox, a graduate of Flowing Wells High School. "They shouldn't stand in the way of success, there's no handicap to success."

Having no arms hasn't left Cox dependent on others. She can type 20-words a minute, put in contact lenses and even drive a car, all with her feet. At age 17, she passed the driving test with no problems, even if her instructor had a concerned look on his face, she said. Two weeks later, the state suspended her license and tried to make her use special adaptors for her car. Through fierce determination, she was able to prove that she was a better driver without the adaptations.

Cox has found success in nearly every arena into which she has ventured. While studying for her psychology degree at the University of Arizona, Cox honed her skills in Tae Kwon Do. In her first meet - at an American Tae Kwon Do Association competition in Las Vegas - Cox tied for first place after round one with three other contestants, wielding nun-chucks with her feet. She finished the meet in fourth place.

She has since earned two black belts in two different styles of martial arts. Her black belt from the American Tae Kwon Do Association was the first ever earned by a person with no arms.

As a kid, Cox was urged to use prosthetic arms. The heavy contraption would only move up and down and was adorned by two hooks for hands. It relied on muscle memory, by adjusting her shoulders, to open and close the hooks.

It was like wearing a football uniform without the helmet, said Cox. Instead, she opted to use her feet for everything.

These days, Cox's motivational speaking tour takes her to two or three engagements a month. This week she will address a Future Leaders of America seminar for high school students in Portland, Ore. Other engagements have taken her as far as Mexico.

Running the international speaking tour enterprise has limited her free time. No matter her schedule, she always finds time for an hour of Oprah every day. In fact, that's her next goal.

"I don't even watch television, I only watch an hour of Oprah every day," laughs Cox. "I want to end up on Oprah's show one day."

Forever the busybody, Cox has found success in business and athletics. On her first day as a telemarketer while in college she landed a bonus on her first call. Although that job didn't last, her next gig was reading tests to those with reading disorders at the UA. She even took second place in her first public speaking contest against experienced speakers.

The hectic lifestyle doesn't leave her with much down time.

While landing a gig on Oprah may be difficult, Cox is searching for a deal with a local RV company that can supply her with a vehicle to use for her speaking tours.

To keep fit, Cox still is a regular in the pool, whether it's at the UA student recreation center or at L.A. Fitness on Ina and Shannon roads. Out of the pool, she's hard at work building her enterprise, www.rightfooted.com.

"My goal for her was to be independent," said Inez, who never expected her daughter would advance this far. "In middle school she wanted to be, but I kind of held her back, and I realized I was not helping."

Cox has come a long way from her days playing with toys with her feet on Magic Place, where life isn't magic, it's just right- footed.

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