How Jessica, One Little Girl and One Great Photo Went Around the World


You don’t need arms to give a hug … or receive one. Photo credit: Nick Spark

Last Friday when we premiered Right Footed at the AirVenture aviation event, we had no idea that we’d have a special guest — a little girl nicknamed “RE” who like Jessica was born without arms — or that her visit with Jessica Cox would be seen and talked about by people all over the world. Jessica has “gone viral “ in the past and even trended on Facebook as recently as a month ago, but nothing could have prepared her or Right Footed director Nick Spark for the events of the last few days. If you’ve read our blog then you already know the story — little RE’s mother Karlyn found out about our premiere and drove for six long hours from her home in St. Paul, Minnesota in hopes that her daughter could meet Jessica. And despite having a hectic schedule at AirVenture, Jessica dropped everything so that she could do what she’s so great at — mentoring children with disabilities and their families. Right on the floor of the theater lobby Jessica began showing RE how she puts on and ties her shoes with her toes, how she drinks from a water bottle held between her feet, and how she can write with her feet. She autographed a movie poster for RE, and even shuck out of the theater to show the little girl an airplane identical to the one she flies. Her goal was to encourage this girl, as she has many others, to believe that in her life she can do anything, and that even the sky is no limit.


Having followed Jessica with a camera for two years, it was natural enough that Nick Spark would shoot some photos and video of the interaction between RE and Jessica. It seemed to him that a life-changing event was happening in front of his eyes, not just for RE but for her entire family. Because it is one thing to hear about Jessica Cox or to see her on Youtube doing her magic with her toes, but to see her in the flesh and experience her humanity and warmth, is something else entirely. For Spark the moment was very special, and verified all the reasons that one makes an independent film without financial support of anyone except donors, and without help from a TV network or studio. It’s been three long years and countless hours of fundraising, planning, shooting — and an entire year in a dark room editing. There have been few rewards but the expectation has been that this film will open eyes, change lives and opinions, and affect and touch people. The presence of RE and her mother simply affirmed that, as did a standing ovation at the end of the premiere screening.


Without even thinking about it the pictures and some video of Jessica and RE were posted on Facebook and on this blog after the premiere, with a little write-up about the encounter. Featured in these posts was a photo of a precious moment when RE and Jessica exchanged a hug, with the caption “You don’t need arms to give a hug … or receive one.” It was a statement and an image that struck a chord with everyone who saw it, a pure moment that says everything about Jessica Cox and what she does, and the power of mentorship and love. It’s also a photo that encapsulates very much the spirit of Right Footed and explains why Jessica is such a vital and needed force within the disability community. Within a very short time the photo and the accompanying video were being shared by dozens and then hundreds of people, and the media starting calling and emailing from the USA and soon all over the world. The heartfelt sentiments that people expressed, and the joy that this image has created, eclipses our ability to write about it. Suffice to say we’re delighted that RE’s mom did such a great thing for her daughter in coming to our screening, and happy that she allowed us to share this moment with the world. And we sincerely hope as we take this documentary out into the world that there will be many more REs and Karlyns who are touched by the film and Jessica Cox.