Willard grad climbs past cancer

WILLARD Willard High School freshman Haley Bergman was inspired Tuesday afternoon to climb w
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

WILLARD

Willard High School freshman Haley Bergman was inspired Tuesday afternoon to climb whatever mountains she has to in order to battle her cancer.

After all, Willard graduate and two-time cancer survivor Sean Swarner did.

Cancer left him with only one working lung, yet surviving it twice inspired him to scale the highest peaks on all seven continents, including the 29,035-foot Mount Everest.

He's the only known cancer survivor to accomplish that feat. He spoke to a Willard High School crowd Tuesday about overcoming challenges.

At age 13 and 16, Swarner was told he had only weeks to live, but at age 32, his accomplishments have earned national acclaim.

During his presentation Tuesday afternoon, Swarner showed students an ESPN segment about his accomplishments, which recently aired on the sports network.

"He made my life seem better than his," Bergman said, adding that she feels like she can survive her cancer and accomplish more in her life. "He's been through a lot more."

Swarner, who graduated from Willard High School in 1993, now lives in Boulder, Colo. where he runs the Cancer Climber Association, a non-profit group dedicated to motivating cancer patients to inspire each other.

"My goal is to inspire people to motivate themselves," Swarner said after his presentation. "I don't want to plant any seeds that aren't there, but to motivate them to act on their own ambitions."

His story left a lasting impression on the 650 to 700 students who attended the motivational speaking session.

For students like Lee Jester, 17, it put into perspective how relatively minor some problems are.

"It was inspirational," Jester said. "He believed in himself. He had cancer and he accomplished so much."

For other students such as freshman Michelle Newell, 14, it reminded them of how their lives have been affected by cancer.

During the presentation, Swarner asked students how many of them had been affected by cancer. Nearly every student raised his or her hand.

Newell's sister Crystal died of cancer at age 12 after surviving the disease once before.

"It's very hard to live with cancer and then survive it," Newell said. "(Swarner's presentation) made me think how hard it was for her."

Swarner isn't finished defying the odds by a long shot. His next expeditions are slated for the North and South poles to become one of only a handful of people to reach not only the world's highest peaks, but both ends of the earth as well.

"We plan to do the North Pole next summer and the South Pole that winter," he said.