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Sean Swarner: Redefining Impossible

Living fearlessly, he’s inspiring cancer patients to dream big, reach high, and never give up.

Sean Swarner holds nothing back when it comes to living, in fact, he’s up for any challenge. Obstacles that would instill fear in most, Swarner has added to his list of accomplishments. Climbing the highest mountain in the world? Check. Beating cancer? Check. Competing in grueling athletic events? Check.

After beating cancer twice, Swarner decided that there was more to life than school, work, and mundane hobbies. He dropped out of college, sold everything and set his sights on the top of the world. So, he climbed 29,035 feet to the top of Mount Everest, making him the first cancer survivor to do so. He’s also climbed the highest mountain in each continent, competed in the Hawaii Ironman and skied at the North and South Poles.

His mind-over-matter attitude is what has allowed him to transform tragedy to triumph. Through it all, he continues to be an advocate for cancer research. He’s the winner of the Never Give Up Award presented by the Jimmy V Foundation and ESPN, the American Lung Association’s Inspiration Award, and he’s been inducted into the Cancer Survivor’s Hall of Fame. Ultimately, Swarner wants to inspire people to reach their own personal peaks through his public speaking and his book, Keep Climbing: How I Beat Cancer and Reached the Top of the World.

Challenge Accepted

Swarner is an explorer, motivational speaker, author, athlete, and cancer survivor, who has defied the odds to overcome a deathly diagnosis to literally stand on top of the world. One of Swarner’s mottos is “there are no challenges, only opportunities.”

When he was 13, a clumsy fall turned into a revelation that he had Stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease, an aggressive cancer. He was told he had months to live. “I didn’t even process it. I was young and didn’t want to die, didn’t understand the concept of death, and thought I could overcome whatever the doctor was telling me,” he says.

Turns out, he thought right. He wasn’t meant to die of cancer that time, or three years later when he was diagnosed with Askins Sarcoma, another extremely rare cancer, and was placed in a medically induced coma for a year. Little did he know that this pain would be the start of his journey as a prolific explorer who would use his accomplishments to bring awareness to cancer research.

Swarner is the first person to be diagnosed with and survive Hodgkin’s disease and Askins Sarcoma, he’s also the first cancer survivor to complete 7 Summits, an expedition that challenges explorers to reach the highest point on each continent, and the first cancer survivor to complete the Hawaii Ironman Challenge, which includes a 2.4 mile rough water swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26-mile run. These accolades and more have allowed Swarner to be featured on networks and publications like Fox & Friends, Washington Post, Good Morning America, and SportsCenter.

 Mountain Mission

Swarner was in grad school on his way to becoming a psycho-oncologist when he decided he wanted to do more to inspire cancer survivors. He quit school, sold all his things, moved to Colorado, and tried to secure funding and sponsors to make the trip a reality. He practiced climbing daily with 100 pounds of rocks in his backpack on Mount Elbert in Colorado, a mountain with a peak of 14,400 feet.

But, based on his health history it was hard finding sponsors. “They felt that it was too great a risk to invest in someone with one lung,” he says. “Even my parents were like ‘you survived cancer twice and now you want to kill yourself this way?!,” he jokes.

Swarner remained committed to his goal, even though there were naysayers. Seven months before his trip, he went to New York City for a sponsor meeting and got a wake-up call that put his mission back in motion. He stepped outside and watched the Twin Towers fall on September 11, 2001. The next year, he was on top of Mount Everest. “It made me realize once again how short life is and how it’s up to you to make the most of your life through your experiences.” He scaled the mountain with one cook, two Sherpas, and his brother.

Today, he is co-founder of the Cancer Climber Association, a non-profit that helps other cancer survivors climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. “I have a special mission for cancer survivors, I carry a flag with me on each adventure to represent our strength and to keep me moving forward.” In October, Swarner will unveil a new program called Step Up After Cancer, it’s a community of cancer survivors supporting each other to live fearless lives.

Lucky Number Seven

Nothing Swarner has accomplished was the result of luck, it was all based on hard work, strategy, and planning. But still, the lucky number seven is a recurring theme within his achievements. He’s traveled to the highest point on all seven continents, including Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, Mount Elbrus in Europe, the Vinson Massif in Antarctica, Mount Aconcagua in South America, Mount Denali in North America, and Mount Everest in Asia. His guidebook for cancer survivors on the climb is called The Next 7 Days, and aims to inspire cancer survivors to living their lives without fear.

In 2021, Swarner is planning to run seven marathons in seven continents in seven days. Wherever he goes, he plans to bring the names of cancer survivors with him. His goal is to get sponsors of $25 a name and raise $25 million to go towards cancer research.

In all of his expeditions, Swarner hopes that people will see the power of looking up. “I started climbing mountains because I wanted to get to the highest point I could and scream that there is hope for cancer,” he says. “Once you’re climbing a mountain, you have to look up, you have to hope for the best, and you have to overcome. I want all cancer survivors to not just know this, but experience it.” For more information visit, seanswarner.com.