Sean Swarner is the only person in the world to endure two life-threatening cancer types. After defeating the dreaded disease, he climbed all seven summits and skied to the North & South pole with just one lung. He is now a famous philanthropist, keynote speaker, author and was also voted as one of the top 8 most inspirational people in history.
Born in Ohio, Sean was a completely healthy child. At 13, his entire body unnaturally swelled up after a minute basketball injury. After agonising visits to the doctor, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was given only three months to live. While Sean was too young to understand death, he knew that he had to fight it. After a year of chemotherapy and unwavering courage, he was cancer-free.
However, two years later, he was diagnosed with critical Askin’s sarcoma. Due to the severity, his golf ball-sized tumour was removed on the same day, but Sean was given a prognosis of 14 days to live with a 6 percent chance of survival. He had also been in a medically-induced coma on and off for a year. Sean said that he would have been more likely to win the lottery four or five times with the same numbers than to have survived both these terminal cancers.
Filled with a profound respect for life, he was committed to doing something incredible. He set out to climb Mount Everest. He dropped out of graduate school to truly focus on achieving his extraordinary goal. Sean would climb Long’s Peak every week with 100 pounds of rocks in his backpack. He struggled to find sponsors and his parents disagreed with his plan. After selling everything he had and begging for cash, he was selected as a finalist for the Johnnie Walker Keep Walking Campaign in New York City. Just before he pitched his project, the twin towers were attacked. He again stared death in the eyes and realised his mortality. The pot was split between all the finalists and Sean finally had enough funds to achieve his dream. However, no guide company wanted to support Sean as a client. He was constantly rejected and was told that it was “physiologically impossible” for him to get above 21,000 feet. He finally secured an Everest organiser after convincing the American Alphine Club that he was qualified. He bought a slot on National Geographic’s permit and set to conquer Everest with only one cook, two Sherpa and his brother. Over two months later, he achieved the seemingly impossible.
When asked about how he pushed through the apparently insurmountable obstacles he said, “Every night I went to bed [and] visualized myself reaching the summit, and I attached all of my feelings to that. If you don’t have an emotional attachment to something then what’s to drive you when things get tough? If you don’t believe something is possible, then it’s not.”
After he made it back down, he started the Cancer Climber Association, a non-profit to inspire others. The foundation promotes cancer awareness and funds 100% of a survivor’s trip to Africa. Sean travels annually to Africa and has climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro at least 13 times. He became the first cancer survivor to climb the rest of the Seven Summits alongside working on his non-profit. While training for the summits, he decided to participate in Ford Ironman World Championship Hawaii- a challenging triathlon hosted annually. “Finishing Ironman Hawaii in 2008 was one of the hardest things I had ever done”, said Sean. He completed it with an astonishing final time of 11:44:15 against the standard average of 12:35:00.
Completing Ironman gave him another push to strive and aim even higher which helped him complete Explorers Grand Slam. On his way to the North Pole, he also brought a flag with names of people touched by cancer and planted the flag in honour of cancer heroes. This heartfelt initiative was undertaken to spread a message of hope and motivate cancer fighters, survivors and their caregivers to overcome their own “mountains.”
Sean is now a real-life superhero and role model to millions. He delivers exclusive speeches to Fortune 500 companies, NFL players and universities while running numerous leadership panels and motivational keynotes. He also signed a book series deal and has currently released 2 books: ‘Keep Climbing: How I Beat Cancer and Reached the Top of the World’ and ‘Being Unstoppable: Conquering Your Everest.’ Being as close to a real-life bionic man as possible, Sean’s fascinating life story became the subject of Amazon’s Emmy-nominated documentary titled ‘True North: The Sean Swarner Story.’ He was also the winner of the ‘Don’t Ever Give Up’ Award presented by ESPN and the Jimmy V Foundation.
At his weakest, he told himself, “You have to redefine your impossible. You have to believe it before you see it.” Sean’s endurance, unwavering courage and dedication have proven that even the largest of “mountains” and obstacles can be conquered and triumphed over.