A member of the Magistri, he taught science and coached wrestling at Pingry from 1957-1994.
"I am a living, breathing, walking miracle."
Speaking to Middle and Upper School students, inspirational speaker, adventurer, and author Sean Swarner was not using hyperbole. He was stating facts. He is the first cancer survivor to have climbed the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each continent), skied to both the North and South Poles, and completed the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon—all with one fully functioning lung and having twice survived pediatric cancer. For Mr. Swarner, life is all about perspective.
Guiding the audience through his life story, he began with his childhood in the small town of Willard, OH (in the northern part of the state, southwest of Cleveland), where he played multiple sports. In Grade 8, at age 13, he was diagnosed with advanced stage 4 Hodgkin's Lymphoma and given the devastating news that he had only three months to live. Mr. Swarner lost most of his hair and became 60-70 pounds overweight from chemotherapy. Yet, he recalled, "I could either fight for my life or give up and die . . . I wasn't focused on 'not dying.' I focused on living." As if those horrors weren't enough, three years later, doctors discovered a second cancer, Askin's tumor. This time, he was given just 14 days to live. Radiation killed one of his lungs. But he survived.
Mr. Swarner uses his stories of survival to illustrate what he considers the importance of perspective, and the power of positive thinking. Displaying a slide with the phrase
he asked for a show of hands: How many students read "Today is nowhere" versus "Today is now here"? Most hands went up for the former. Mr. Swarner urged the students to think of "today" at the best day ever because yesterday is history—nothing can be done about it—and we are all still here today.
Mr. Swarner also shared his consistent training for, and the challenges involved in, climbing Mt. Everest (over 29,000 feet), including a 14-day trek to reach Base Camp. He wanted to become the first cancer survivor to reach the top—and did.
He left the students with two powerful ideas. When starting their day, think about what they want to do instead of what they need or have to do. And, imagining themselves having reached success with a major goal, consider: "What is different in me to make that goal happen?"
School Counselor Dr. Adam Rosen and Health Department Chair Sue Marotto collaborated to bring Mr. Swarner to Pingry and organized the assembly.
Contact: Greg Waxberg '96, Communications Writer and Editor of The Pingry Review