If ever there was a brave and courageous New Brunswicker with a compelling story to tell, it is John Westhaver.
A native of St. Stephen, Westhaver has made it his mission to speak to students across Canada and the U.S. about overcoming adversity and making responsible choices. His messages are clear: you are not defined by your looks; you are not what happened to you, and you can create the life of your dreams.
In 1994, a month and a half before his high school graduation, Westhaver was involved in a horrific car crash with three of his friends. The teens had been enjoying a typical Friday night - drinking beer in the car, blasting music and speeding. Although the driver of the vehicle was sober, the car lost control at a sharp bend and hit a telephone pole, killing everyone in the car except Westhaver. When he awoke from a medically-induced coma a month later, he learned that his friends were killed in the crash. He was fortunate to be alive, but had suffered life-threatening burns to 75 per cent of his body. Through his extensive rehabilitation, he found the strength to move forward. His ongoing recovery inspired him to devote his life to helping others make the choices that he didn't.
On Nov. 21, Westhaver spoke to students at George Street Middle School in Fredericton during a special school assembly.
"He spoke to our
students about overcoming challenges," Principal Pierre Plourde said. "Living with facial disfigurement in
today's superficial world can be very challenging. John shared how he not only
lives in this superficial world, but how he thrives in it. His presentation provided our students with great advice with the intention to motivate and inspire our students to find in themselves the courage, power and strength to deal with difficult times in their own lives."
The students heard Westhaver share his feelings about dealing with the loss of his friends and his struggles to undergo over 35 surgeries to correct the damage caused by the fiery car crash. He spoke about believing in yourself, accepting who you are, not judging others by their appearance, and knowing the freedom of letting go of the past through forgiveness.
Today, Westhaver resides in Victoria, BC where he is involved in a road safety speaker program. He has made over 600 presentations in North America as an established and powerful motivational speaker.
Shown in the photo below is John Westhaver speaking to students at George Street Middle School.