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Jessica Cox is not your average pilot.
The 32-year-old, who was born with a rare non-genetic birth defect that left her without arms, has never let her disability hold her back. Growing up, Cox did it all, from swim lessons to girl scouts, modeling, tap dancing and Taekwondo — at the age of 14, she'd already earned a black belt.
“I can’t believe how much I did growing up. Every single day after school there was something going on. I don’t know how my parents did it,” Cox told TODAY. “I was expected to learn to do things like everybody else in my own way, which worked out just fine."
She even learned how to fly a plane with her feet.
Becoming a pilot wasn't always a dream for Cox, but after going up in a single engine airplane with a fighter pilot several years ago, she was inspired to overcome her initial fears.
“Being up in the air put me on edge, but that quickly went away," she said. "It still keeps me on edge, which I like.”
In 2008, after extensive training, she earned her Light Sport Pilot Certificate, and in 2011 she nabbed the Guinness World Record for the "First Armless Person in the World Ever to Have Obtained a Pilot’s License."
Cox has now traveled to 20 countries on six continents to share her inspirational story. She believes anyone can excel, regardless of disability, with encouragement and support.
“I feel like my message is all the more important when I find out the stigmas that people with disabilities experience,” she said.
Cox doesn’t tour alone — she travels with her husband, Patrick, who has been by her side for three years. The two met at a Taekwondo class in 2010, where he was an instructor and a fourth-degree black belt. In 2014, after Patrick had transferred to a different school and begun to train Cox, she won the state championship title last year.
“That’s what I take pride in. The fact that I did it amongst other women my age, my height who didn’t have disabilities,” she said.
Not only is Cox the first person to fly a plane without arms, but she also holds the title of the first person without arms to receive a black belt in the American Taekwondo Association.
Cox said that while titles and awards are “the icing on top,” they’re not the driving force behind her career path. She takes pride in knowing that she inspires others to see past physical limitations that people tend to put on themselves.
“I do what I do because I love to do it," she said "and I don’t give up.”