By Kim Constantinesco
Editor’s note: Because Purpose2Play has been telling the stories of athletes, coaches, and fans for more than three years, we figure it’s about time to catch up with some of them to find out where they are now. As you’ll see, they’re still inspiring others and making the world a better place to live in.
Where Are They Now? Catching Up with Sean Swarner (“Two-Time Cancer Survivor Climbs World’s Tallest Mountains With One Lung,” June 18, 2014)
At the age of 13, Sean Swarner was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma and given three months to live. He won that fight only to come out of remission 20 months later and receive a second cancer diagnosis of Askin’s sarcoma. His prognosis? Two weeks to live. A decade later, and with just one fully functioning lung, he became the first cancer survivor to summit Mt. Everest.
We talked with Swarner in 2014 to find out how he did it and what drove him. Thanks to his sponsor, Marmot, and their support of the Empire State Building Run Up, we had the chance to catch up with him in New York City just days before he ran up the iconic building’s 86 floors. The climb sounds intense, but for him, it was great training.
That’s because Swarner is on the verge of becoming the first cancer survivor to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam, meaning he will have reached the highest mountain on each continent and trekked to the North Pole and South Pole. However, with one trip toward the polar bears left to go, he’s doing it for a greater reason than exploration.
Swarner will carry a flag with the names of those who have been personally touched by cancer. A $5 donation toward his Mission of Hope campaign will enable one to recognize and support someone who is currently battling cancer, someone who has beat cancer, or someone who has died because of the disease. The money will go toward both finding a cure and providing survivors with “adventure grants” from Swarner’s non-profit, The Cancer Climber Association. His mission will also back other cancer organizations who want to use this platform to fundraise.
“If people are battling for their life in a hospital bed, then I can battle through the elements,” Swarner said. “If you’re going through cancer, you can’t stop and turn around. Up in the mountains or in the North Pole, I can always call for a helicopter. No one can call a lifeline when they’re battling for their life and say, ‘Hey, get me out of here.'”
Settling Into The Unknown
Swarner, 42, has been training relentlessly in his Denver neighborhood by dragging car tires behind him up hills at 6,000 feet above sea level.
His plan is to leave the U.S. on March 27. He’ll make his way to Longyearbyen, Svalbard and eventually to a temporary ice village known as Camp Barneo. From there, he’ll ski to the North Pole dragging a sled full gear weighing about 150 pounds. The challenge lies in battling the cold weather and dealing with unpredictable currents.
“The issue is because it’s a big polar ice cap and it’s floating on the ocean, we could wake up one day, trek nine or 10 miles north, set up camp, and depending on how the currents are floating underneath, we could float six miles backwards,” Swarner explained. “A couple of years ago, a group went up there and they were about a day away from getting to the Pole. They set up camp, the currents shifted while they were sleeping, and they drifted past the North Pole so they had to backtrack.”
He’d like to finish by April 15. His primary goal, however, is to get 100,000 names on the flag he’ll be carrying.
Swarner has undoubtedly lived life to the fullest, but he’s quick to point out that he, too, had to start from ground zero.
“My first goal was to go from the hospital bed to the bathroom. Not from the hospital bed to the top of the world,” Swarner said. “People need to realize that there’s a beginning, middle, and end. What people see most of the time in the news is the beginning and the end. I think that’s where the whole idea of instant gratification comes from. I get down and I get depressed, even as I’m getting ready for these big expeditions, but I don’t lose hope. We can go 30 days without food, three days without water, but we can’t go 30 seconds without hope.”
When Swarner isn’t climbing or trekking, he’s out spreading that message to hospital patients, school kids, and those in corporate America.
“I want to help people understand that there’s a huge mental aspect to life,” Swarner said. “The only thing we can change is how we see things. We can’t change other people or our situations. We can only control how we react to them.”
Perhaps that’s why Swarner is so comfortable stepping outside of his comfort zone.
Oh, and as Swarner eyed the 1,576 stairs built on a 65% grade at the Empire State Building Run Up, he prepared his mind, not his lung, for the massive 18-minute challenge.
Why take the elevator when you can climb and earn your views?
If you’d like to recognize or honor someone who has been personally been touched by cancer, you can add his or her name to Sean’s flag by going here.
Inspired by what Sean is doing? Have him speak at your school, workplace, or next big event.