(Sept. 3, 2012) Several months ago I was intrigued to catch a glimpse online of a compelling and powerful independent documentary project producer/director Nick Spark is in the early stages of spooling up. Nick was the driving force behind the critically acclaimed LEGEND OF PANCHO BARNES, which I am proud to say he screened as a rough-cut at the very first Reel Stuff Film Festival in early 2008. As dozens of film festival audiences and millions of PBS viewers of PANCHO later saw and learned, Nick knows better than well how to tell a story, especially about a dynamic and historic aviatrix.
It apparently started when Nick saw a news account of 29-year-old Jessica Cox from Sierra Vista, Arizona, a charming Taekwando double-black belt, scuba diver, surfer and vintage Ercoupe pilot who travels the world in the attempt to use aviation and other things to inspire people and change lives.
Hmmm, you might be thinking – yet another Tony Robbins wannabe. Except that in Jessica’s case, the “other things” are in fact missing things. You see, as the result of a rare birth defect, Jessica was born without arms. That’s no arms, no hands. Go ahead – re-read last sentence, above paragraph.
RIGHTFOOTED references the fact that Jessica is just that, just as you might happen to be right handed. Nick’s work-in-progress provides a fascinating up-close and personal look at Jessica’s perseverance, creativity and positive “can do” spirit that has overcome seemingly insurmountable physical and mental challenges. The combination of Jessica’s charm, resourcefulness and aviation helps her share her inspirational example worldwide, winning legions of friends and admirers along the way. And she’s only just beginning.
Truly unstoppable from the day she was born, one accomplishment she is most proud of is earning her pilots license in 2008. RIGHTFOOTED details Jessica’s transformation as she learned to command a vintage Ercoupe, its rudderless control configuration enabling her to pilot the plane without the use of any prosthesis or altered equipment.
Patty Wagstaff once said that an airplane doesn’t know if the pilot’s a girl. Thankfully, for Jessica Cox, the Ercoupe doesn’t know if that girl is armless.
Not only has Jessica inspired others with disabilities to fly, her achievement has motivated, empowered and transformed able-bodied and disabled, alike, to overcome their own personal obstacles, whatever those may be.
One of many delightful aspects of the story is in chronicling preparations leading up to and including her wedding to fiancé Patrick Chamberlain, a former Taekwando instructor of hers who, wanting to avoid any appearance of impropriety, waited until Jessica was under the tutelage of another instructor before asking her out. The rest, as they say, will be history, as the couple was married in May.
After viewing the trailer at http://rightfootedmovie.com, I called Nick and learned that he’s seeking the funding needed to follow Jessica all over the map as she shares her message of triumph, inspiration and hope – be it mentoring an emotionally fragile six-year-old amputee, traveling to Africa where she works to change laws and prejudice against the disabled and (with suitable funding…) flying from airport to airport to encourage kids of all ages to become their best selves, perhaps setting some aviation records along the way.
Funded on a non-profit basis, the immediate need is $10,000 in support that will enable Nick to shadow Jessica as she participates in Challenge Air in Kansas City on September 8. Challenge Air is a program that builds confidence and self esteem for youngster with special needs through the experience of flight. www.challengeair.com While in Kansas Jessica will meet with a 4-year-old named Gracie who, like Jessica, was born without arms and faces a similar life full of challenges. Can you imagine what this meeting might mean to Gracie and her parents? I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to see that happen.
Then next up for Jessica is accepting an invitation from Lagos, Nigeria as a public speaker, one of but several of her opportunities to impact Third World countries where people with disabilities are treated as second-class citizens, or worse.
It didn’t take me but a minute to pledge the support of Reel Stuff to aiding Nick’s RIGHTFOOTED project, and not just because I look forward to hosting the trio of Jessica, Patrick and Nick on the Reel Stuff Film Fest tour when the project is ready. I personally felt called to help see this film to fruition and was particularly thrilled to discover that I’d have the chance to meet Jessica and Patrick, in person, while up at AirVenture in Oshkosh last month. By sheer luck (or divine intervention), we were both scheduled to be Forum presenters at the EAA Museum- on the very same afternoon!
Thankfully our schedules allowed me to attend and photograph Jessica’s presentation and autograph session, and share a quick lunch before my showtime. Joining us was a petite young lady named Lydia who, with some more work to overcome her disability, as Patrick explained, will soon become the youngest pilot in her home country of Ghana, where she and Jessica first met.
I look forward one day to everyone having an opportunity to meet Jessica, in person or at least by seeing RIGHTFOOTED one day soon. Any of the aviation alphabet soup groups out there (AOPA, EAA,CAP, etc) that strive to recruit a new, young and highly motivated breed of pilots of either gender would be well served by sponsoring Nick’s independently produced non-profit film project, even more empowering in combination with hosting Jessica’s supporting cross-country speaking tour.
Jessica is a star and a treasure to the young and old who become her fans at each appearance, regardless of an aviation interest or not. Her allure and impact will most certainly be magnified once RIGHTFOOTED is internationally screened and broadcast. As I watched with awe at Oshkosh, it’s evident that Jessica already has that autograph thing nailed down just fine – signing RIGHTFOOTED, of course. (Tony Robbins – can you do THAT?)
If you’d like to help Jessica get to Kansas City, Africa and beyond, and ensure Nick is able to continue documenting her amazing journey for us on film, I encourage you to make a tax deductible donation at the website www.Rightfootedmovie.com. There you can also check out the trailer, read Jessica and Patrick’s blog, and read more about the production as it moves forward. I’ll provide updates here at www.reelstufffilmfest.com, as well. Thanks for your support!