“How do you hug without arms?”
That's one of the top questions Jessica Cox, the world's first armless pilot, says she answers in her role as a motivational speaker. And a recent photo she snapped with a fan gave the answer once and for all.
“The picture really answered it,” Cox told TODAY of the image that went viral, in which she's seen sharing a sentimental moment with RE (Ruth Evelyn), a 3-year-old born without arms.
When Karlyn Pranke, RE’s mother, got word of the premiere of “Right Footed,” a documentary around Cox’s life, Pranke knew her daughter had to meet the pilot.
Pranke was 20 weeks pregnant when she found out that her daughter would be born without arms. The doctors told the expectant mom that she would have a week to terminate the pregnancy, but that thought never crossed her mind. “If she doesn’t have arms, that isn’t going to be a considering. It’s going to be fine,” Pranke recalled thinking.
Just two months ago, RE began to question her condition, and said something to her mom that she’s never said before.
“She said to me, ‘I want arms,'" Pranke told TODAY. At that moment, Pranke knew it was time for RE to meet a role model like Cox, who could help her understand that she’s not alone.
Pranke and RE drove six hours from Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the premiere of “Right Footed,” where RE and Cox met for the first time. RE was shy at first, but after a few minutes she sat in Cox’s lap and said, “She’s just like me! She doesn’t have arms!”
After sharing the heartfelt hug seen by thousands, Cox showed RE how to embrace being different. Cox told TODAY that during their time together, a 5-year-old walked up to them and asked why RE didn’t have arms. Cox jumped at the opportunity to answer for RE and explained to the toddler that everyone is different.
“You can’t always control how the outside world reacts. Ultimately, it’s up to us on how we react,” Cox said.
RE, whose mom describes her as “adventurous, funny, and caring," isn’t phased by unwanted attention, and Pranke has no fear that her daughter will take Cox's advice. “There’s nothing that’s stopping her," Pranke said. "She can do anything. Obviously, we can see that.”
When she was RE’s age, Cox says she wished she'd met someone like herself who could have given her the same assurance that she’s not alone.
“I hope that’s what it did for [RE]," she said, "to let her know that she’s not the only one and that she’s going to be just fine.”