Angel without wings

INTRODUCTION

Despite her disability, armless pilot Jessica Cox has been inspiring thousands of people around the globe because of her various achievements. Her determination to go against what society dictates to be “normal” is proof that everyone is created equal by God and that all difficulties can be overcome. This passion to live and to inspire has led her back to her mother’s hometown, one of the many hit by Supertyphoon Haiyan (locally known as 'Yolanda') in Central Philippines, to give her people the same encouragement that they unwittingly gave her – to strive to live a full life despite problems and difficulties.

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After Supertyphoon Haiyan hit the Philippines late last year, armless pilot and motivational speaker Jessica Cox felt compelled to fly to her mother’s hometown in Eastern Samar, this time to remind their people of the resilience she got from them and to encourage them to keep the faith despite the calamity.

When Haiyan first made its landfall in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, on November 8, Jessica was in Washington D.C. lobbying for the passage of a major disability bill at the United States Senate. She was instantly affected by the news about the devastation caused by the typhoon , especially as her mother, Inez Macabare, hails from Bobon town in Eastern Samar. 

Nick Spark, the director of the documentary film about Jessica’s life entitled “Rightfooted,” recounted that Jessica immediately hosted a fund-raising for the survivors of the calamity after visiting the Philippine Consulate in Washington. Despite already doing that much, Jessica still felt compelled to come to the Philippines because of her Filipino roots. 

“Her whole life, she talked about her mother giving her strength to overcome things and that’s very much associated with being a Filipino,” he said. “For her to come back (here) is about giving the lesson back to the Filipino people: reminding them of what they gave her – resilience.”

After months of raising money to fund their trip, 31-year-old Jessica, her husband Patrick Chamberlain, Nick, and the “Rightfooted” film crew flew to Manila and later on to Tacloban on February 24, not only to motivate survivors, especially those who lost limbs due to the calamity, but also to capture on film the Filipino’s sense of resilience, for which Jessica herself is most known. 

The following is the transcript of the interview with Jessica after her team’s trip to Eastern Visayas.

What was your purpose in visiting the provinces hit by Supertyphoon Haiyan?

Our trip was an awareness trip to let the world know that there (are) still people who need support. Yes, it happened months ago but there is something that needs continuous support. We came here for that and also to bring inspiration to all the survivors. 

We actually brought a film crew. The documentary will be seen by millions of people worldwide and we hope to bring awareness. And when the film is finished, it will draw attention to the fact that everyone there still needs support. This was our particular mission and to likewise bring inspiration. 

I hope our visit also brought the survivors encouragement. That Waray (the colloquial name by which people of the region are known – Ed.) spirit my mom talks about, of being tough and not giving up, they have it and, hopefully, my condition served as a reminder to them that they can move on and keep going. 

 

Can you tell us what happened when you finally landed in Tacloban, Leyte?

We really had no way to prepare ourselves for what we were about to see. The time the airplane touched down, I was looking at the airport and I couldn’t even recognize it. There were no area walls. When I got out of the plane and went to the baggage claim, the carousel wasn’t even moving. The only thing that was the same when I was there a year ago was the floor! From that, one could already tell that they really had gone through a lot. 

 

Did you visit your mother’s relatives in Bobon? How are they? 

We did visit our family. Tatay Custodio is sickly and we lost a distant aunt who drowned in the surge. I also found out that my other aunt tripped over something right after the typhoon and she broke her hips. She’s basically bedridden. She asked to see me. We’ve been praying for the victims. 

 

Aside from your relatives, you reportedly met with typhoon survivors who lost limbs as a result of the calamity. How was your meeting with them?

Their stories of survival were the most compelling thing to hear; what they (had) gone through and what they had to do to survive. It’s inspiring to see how truly resilient they are to smile even, though they (had) gone through this devastation. 

I didn’t know I was going to be inspired but I truly was after being there and being with people in Tacloban and Guian, especially in Bobon where my mom’s roots are. 

 

What did you tell the other typhoon survivors when you met them?

I told them faith is bigger (than their miseries) and that God could help us through our struggles. They actually strengthen us oftentimes. When I was a child wondering why I was different and angry about not having arms, I couldn’t understand God’s purpose. And now, years later, I could see how those struggles I went through helped develop my character and who I am today. 

I know that they are in the present moment of struggle, sacrifice, and difficulty. It’s hard to see the purpose now. I was there to, hopefully, let them know that these struggles and difficulties will help them become stronger and show myself as an example. 

 

In your motivational talks, you always cite your mother for the resilience that she has taught you. Why is it important for the “Rightfooted” team to travel to Eastern Samar to film your return to your Filipino roots?

People wonder how I am still resilient or why and how I am accomplishing one thing after another, despite the setbacks. I talk about the Filipino spirit of resilience that my mom taught me: to not give up and to be tough. It was hard for me to fully convey that and I said the only way it could be done was to capture my roots. Of course, he (Nick) wasn’t so excited on that until we heard about the supertyphoon because, then, we have more purpose to be there: to also capture the people who connect with me because my mom was from there. 

 

How much of a Filipino are you, Jessica?

I think much of my spirit is my mom’s. She’s really fearless. Courage and strength could be fostered but a lot of it, too, comes from her. I am so much of her. 

She was the youngest of 13 children and her father passed away when she was just seven months old. His passing away almost guaranteed that the family would be impoverished because no one could be the breadwinner and yet they still pulled through as a family and stayed strong. There were times when there was not enough food for them but they made it a point to make education their main concern. Every single one of them went through college through the help of older siblings supporting the younger ones down the line. That’s how they got through school despite their poverty. That strength saw me through in my own setbacks. 

 

Did you experience bullying during your younger years? How did you overcome the stress of being made fun of?

It was very hard learning how to deal with being made fun of because I’d be in the playground, school cafeteria and the last thing you want to be is be different. My mom would always tell me: “Ignore them. Ignore them,” when I tell her about them making fun of me. 

I’ve learned that I can’t control how the rest of the world reacts to me but what I can control is the way I carry myself. If it is with confidence, its less likely that I’d be victimized by bullying or being made fun of. Or, even if I do, it won’t affect me as much because I have the confidence to say: “You know what? You can think of whatever you want to think about me but I am confident of what I am.” 

Personal acceptance and confidence made it a lot easier than finding a perfect way to react to the rest of the world. There is a saying that goes: “No one can make you feel inferior with your permission.” I love that saying because, ultimately, it is, indeed, up to us whether or not we would allow someone’s negative reaction to affect us.

 

How was your journey of self-acceptance?

I wore prosthetic arms for 11 years but on the first day of my 8th grade in school, I decided to leave them behind. And that was a very good decision because I was essentially accepting myself, how God created me to be. That was the start of my journey of self acceptance and confidence. 

I don’t know what triggered it because it was a gradual process. It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t like one day I woke up and say, I’m confident and I’m gonna leave these arms behind. It was little steps along the way and I’m sure that it’s an ongoing journey. 

 

Being an international motivational speaker, you are a public figure and being one entails self-confidence. How did you build your self-confidence despite being born without arms?

Self-discovery! I realized that God must have a good reason for creating me this way and when I accepted that, I was able to move forward and come out of my shell. 

 

Is there a particular story about the people you come across with in your line of work that struck you the most?

One day, I got an e-mail from someone who was talking about how he was previously suicidal. When he heard about my story and what I’ve done in my life, it reassured him that he should try to keep going. And he did! What is good about receiving that e-mail is knowing that what I do saves (lives). Incredible and very rewarding! 

 

What aspect of your work are you most passionate about?

I’m part of the International Child Amputee Network and I have been a mentor for 10 years now. In this work, I get connected with children who have no limbs and I’ve met seven to eight girls who were born without arms. I become an example to them, of what they can accomplish and I get to give them hope. I’m most passionate in mentoring work. 

I think they’ve gotten a long way after having me as their mentor. I invited them to my wedding because I wanted to instill in their young minds that they, too, can get married one day with someone who can love them for who they are. 

 

Speaking of marriage, can you tell us how you met your husband, Patrick?

We were both in taekwondo and I was moving into a new school. I saw that he was co-teaching there with my good friend who introduced him to me. He transferred to the new school as an instructor the next month and that’s when he asked me out. I started falling for him when I heard him play the piano. He was expressing himself though music and that’s how I got to know him better and better. 

 

Did you date much before meeting Patrick? Were you picky with the men you chose to date?

I was very shy about my difference and self-conscious of the fact that I have no arms. There were guys who liked me in high school but I didn’t respond to them. I only learned to have self-confidence in my college years. Patrick came to my life after, when I was already more confident. 

 

What difference did Patrick make in your life and in your work as a motivational speaker?

I never realized the impact when he entered into my life and joined my team as a speaker. I thought he just brought a new element when we did presentations together. Now that we’ve been married for two years, I have seen the impact he’s made.

People who see Patrick and I as a couple are inspired and come to believe that, indeed, love conquers all – even the difference and disability. We hope to have kids one day when the time is right and with what God chooses to bless us with. 

 

If given a chance, would you like to be reborn with arms?

I think if I were born with arms, I wouldn’t have been able to make the impact that I get to make every day on people’s lives even in just going to the store, being out in public or speaking on stage. The challenge of not having arms has also strengthened me in ways: the resilience of not giving up and the ability of finding creative ways and solutions. When I think about how different my life could be otherwise, I would rather not trade my life now for a life with arms. 

Being born armless is actually a blessing in disguise. It’s hard to immediately connect it to being a gift but, certainly, it would be revealed how it is a blessing. 

 

After achieving a lot despite your disability, is there something else you’d like to try?

I went skydiving on my last birthday. I took scuba diving lessons. I’m also doing cycling and I hope to join a cycling race one day. 

When someone tells me that I can’t do this or that, it gives me all the more reason to do the thing. It challenges me to prove them wrong. I tell people to use the doubt others have in you as a motivation or  encouragement to do something. 

 

As someone who is regarded as a model for women, what do you want to tell the ladies reading the World Mission magazine?

Being a woman should not prevent you from accomplishing anything that you want to do because being one is actually an advantage. So to all the women, don’t let anything stand in your way. Know that you have the strength to do what you want. 

Finally, what is your message to our readers who might be in the same position as you are or are having different problems in other aspects of their lives?

Trust in God and know that He’s always there as He’s always been and He’s using our situation as a way of strengthening us and that He has a plan for us all. In other words, trust in God even when it is most difficult.  

If you like be in touch with Jessica, link to her website, www.rightfooted.com.

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