Cara Filler, a youth motivational speaker, talks to students at Prescott High School Friday morning about making good choices as they go through life. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)
Originally published Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 06:05a.m.
Cara Filler is a statuesque Canadian with an exuberant laugh, comedic timing and a tragic tale to tell.
The 41-year-old founder of the “Drive to Save Lives Tour” and the “iSPOKEUP” campaign came to Prescott High School this past week to share some bold truths with some of its students.
With goofy gestures and movements, the 6-foot-tall motivational speaker offered the full auditorium of teens a secret weapon: three “P” words to escape an unsafe driver: pee, puke and period.
Forget polite. Master the fib.
Tell a ride you will vomit in the car if he/she doesn’t let you out will lead the driver to stop, she assured. The driver might leave you on the side of the road; you might have to dial your parents. At least no one is reserving a gravesite.
In blunt talk she combined with imagery, family photos and some hard-to-view crash photos and recordings, Filler kept all eyes on her for an hour-long session of staccato-paced hilarity and impossible to ignore reality.
She promised students she did not travel from her home in Oregon to nag them about their choices. Their lives, their choices. Rather, she wanted to give them fodder to think about the choices they do make and the impact those will have on the people they love most.
The now-married mother of a sixth-grader said her career dream was not to be a traveling motivational speaker who for more than two decades has urged two million teens in five countries to stand up for themselves against peer pressure and making choices such that they will never collect Social Security.
She said she wanted to be a marine biologist; her plan was to save beluga whales, not teenagers. That is until her life unraveled on a summer day soon after high school graduation.
On Monday, Aug. 29, 1994, the day after Filler and her twin sister, Mairin Johnston, celebrated their 18th birthday, the sisters went to a mall in Vancouver to apply for jobs at the Disney store. Mairin’s new boyfriend came by and offered her a ride home in his sports car. The sisters parted, expecting to meet back at home. Three blocks away, with Filler traveling behind, the boyfriend lost control of his car at over 100 mph, colliding head-on with a car headed in the opposite direction. The impact was on the passenger side; all that was left of the car was metal pieces.
“I can tell you the second my sister died,” Filler declared; she played on the screen the audio with her declaring her love for her sister as police, firefighters and ambulance crews ripped apart the car to remove her from the wreckage.
And her voice drops. She is pulled away to a waiting ambulance. Then comes the police officer to deliver words she knows tore her family apart: “I’m sorry.”
“I loved being a twin … She would beat me up, but I always had a best friend,” Filler declared, sharing how she and her sister loved playing April Fools pranks on teachers and joking about how their mirror image would stun strangers as they walked down streets in their old age.
The choice to get in a car with someone who liked to drive fast stole those dreams.
Her sister was supposed to be the maid of honor at her wedding. She was supposed to be the first person to cradle her nephew after he was born. The twin sisters were supposed to grow old together.
“On Aug. 29, my sister became a statistic. The only thing she did after graduation was to become a number on a piece of paper,” Filler said. “I wish I didn’t have a story to tell. I’m sick and tired of car crashes being the No. 1 killer of youth.”
“I thought she was very inspirational,” said junior Trevor Cargill of the presentation that reminded everyone what it might feel like to lose someone and youth is not immunity from poor choices.
For senior Jason Howard, who is a twin, Filler’s message packed a punch. He found it “horrible” to contemplate suffering such a loss. Her story will make him and others think twice when they drive or drive with others, he said.
“Our choices do matter,” said senior April Burton.
“Mairin doesn’t live with her choice. I do,” Filler concluded.