Beginning with an event at CrossFit Wilsonville, Carrie Higgins has initiated a spirited campaign to promote teen health and safety.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The site of Maddi Higgins fatal car accident in June.

Maddi Higgins cherished a quote by legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on others’ lives.”

A day after 17-year-old Maddi’s fatal car accident in early June, Carrie Higgins, Maddi’s mother, reverberated the sentiment by donating Maddi’s organs in hopes of saving the lives of unknown strangers.

A year and a half prior, Carrie thought she received the ultimate wake-up call about driving responsibly. After accumulating three tickets for speeding, she was forced to attend a victim’s impact panel and sit through heart-wrenching stories of paralysis and death.

During the panel, Carrie remembers one woman came forward to speak. She seemed happy, and Carrie thought her talk would lighten the mood. The woman told the audience about her son and said he was in the building, so she left to go grab him. However, instead of bringing back a living, breathing person, she returned holding an urn filled with ashes.

“She said, ‘this is Carl, I want you to meet Carl.’ I’ll never forget that moment,” Carrie recalled.

Carrie left the panel scared and ready to change. She stopped texting while driving and hasn’t accrued another ticket since.

But now, Carrie has suffered through a road-related tragedy, which also took the life of driver Hayden Soyk. Just like she sought to honor Maddi by donating her organs, she has spearheaded the Maddi Higgins CrossFit Challenge to ensure her daughter’s legacy.

The Maddi Higgins CrossFit challenge at CrossFit Wilsonville served as the kickoff event of the “Long Live Maddi Say Yes to Life” campaign.

The fundraiser, in which hundreds decked out in shirts with “Angel in the Outfield” written on the front and Maddi’s softball number -- 5 -- on the back accompanied by angel wings came to support the cause, give condolences to the Higgins family and endure a strenuous workout.

The goal was to raise money to support a lifetime scholarship for underprivileged teens to begin working out at the gym.

“I’ve not been best role model for an overly active lifestyle. I was part of CrossFit a couple years ago but it is expensive,” Carrie said.

After the accident, Carrie was given a lifetime membership to CrossFit Wilsonville and is motivated to begin to practice what she preaches.

“We believe that exercise brings out happiness and is an endorphin raiser. I think it’s really important because exercise builds self-esteem and self-esteem creates self-awareness, which creates changed behavior. We want to promote making decisions that are going to allow people to make better decisions behind the wheel.” Carrie said.

Carrie wants to elevate teen awareness of the dangers and responsibilities accompanied with driving. CrossFit Wilsonville co-owner Will Brindza pointed out that 80 percent of teens say parents are most influential in forming driving habits. He also said drivers within the first 12 months behind the wheel are three times more likely to be involved in a car crash than experienced drivers.

With regard to accident prevention, Carrie and others involved have concrete plans. First, they want parents and children to sign a contractual agreement. The teen would agree to drive safely, always wear a seatbelt, to only ride in cars they feel comfortable in, to not drink and drive, etc.

Also, they want to work with schools in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District to designate one week in which classroom curriculum would revolve around safe driving and the dangers of reckless driving.

Finally, Carrie plans to organize another event at CrossFit Wilsonville. But instead of simply talking about the tragedies of reckless driving, she hopes to bring in the destroyed car in which her daughter was a passenger.

“The car was wrapped around the telephone poll. Seeing it is very impactful,” Carrie said.

The final element of her Say Yes to Life manifesto involves her first of many altruistic acts.

Some 24 hours after the accident, doctors asked Carrie an unfathomable question. They asked her if she wanted to keep her daughter on life support or let her die. They added that Maddi had a zero percent chance of survival and that if they continued to keep her alive, toxins would spread to her vital organs.

Carrie knew what she had to do.

“We’ve lost a life and know all we can do is save lives,” she said.

In part due to Carrie’s swift decision, doctors were able to salvage all of Maddi’s vital organs.

Two weeks later, Carrie received mail from Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank. The letter offered condolences in the first paragraph and stated, “Your strength and courage during this painful time is a tribute to you and to Madison’s memory.”

The letter informed Carrie that Maddi’s heart had gone to a 15-year-old boy who suffered from an enlarged heart leading to heart failure. Her lungs were transported into a 17-year-old girl suffering from cystic fibrosis. Maddi’s liver was transplanted into a 60-year-old married father who suffered from liver failure and her kidneys were transplanted into a 10-year-old girl and a 77-year-old mother.

A glimmer of light finally beckoned through Carrie’s cloud of darkness.

“I found hope again,” she said.

Carrie wants to let the community know the importance of organ donation.

“They want to spread the message that organ, eye and tissue donation is a truly a beautiful, heroic gesture, one which upon death allows you to live on through others,” the CrossFit Challenge press release states.

Carrie was especially elated Maddi’s heart went to a baseball player. “Before I thought, ‘wouldn’t that be amazing if it went to a baseball player or a softball player?’ I was completely blown away. I knew that was Maddi,” she said.

Maddi’s death altered Carrie’s life forever. Though she lost her daughter, she gained a heightened sense of purpose and a new willingness to lend a helping hand.

“While I would definitely prefer to have my daughter back,” she said. “I can’t get her back. The only thing I can do now is help others so that we will not have another mother or sibling experience the heartache that we have.”

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