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The FIRST and ONLY PERSON to do this | Sean Swarner | The 2%

Eric Partaker

How does a man, with one lung, survivor of cancer… twice, defy the impossible to Climb Everest? Join Sean Swarner (Speaker, Author, Peak Performance Coach, Adventurer and World Record Holder) and Eric Partaker as they share tips on how to reach your full potential, no matter the obstacles in your way!


No Man or Woman Ever Achieves Greatness on Their Own – If you are surrounded by great friends, the right people, a support of individuals to get you through something traumatic, they become your family. Surround yourself with the people who encourage you to be your best self.

Focus Determines Your Reality – Focus your attention on what you want, on your goals, on your dreams. Not the avoidance of what you do not want.

There’s Always Room for Improvement – Fully understand not just what your personal core values are but also what areas you are lacking so you can focus your attention on improvement.

Strive for Better – Pick a core value. Rate on a scale 1 to 10, how you are living that value. How you feel about what energy you put towards it. If you are scoring low, then you know that you need to put some focus and attention towards that value.

Your Only Limit is Your Mind – Understand why you have goals, the purpose behind them. What does it mean to you to achieve these goals? You can overcome tremendous obstacles if the end results mean much more to you than the difficulties in your way.

Vision is Everything! – Tap into the emotional connection that connects the mind and body. Don’t just visualize the goal, feel it, live it, do it! 


Sean Swarner:  The chances of me surviving both of these illnesses is equivalent to winning the lottery four times in a row with the same numbers.

I hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head. When I told him, “Hey dad, I’m going to go climb Mount Everest after surviving two cancers with my one lung,” and I hear his voice, “We didn’t get you through two cancers to go kill yourself on a hunk of rock and ice.”

Any goal that you have, if you understand and know, not necessarily why you’re doing it, but the purpose behind it, you can overcome tremendous obstacles because the end result means much more than anything that gets in your way.

Eric Partaker:  Hi everybody. Welcome to another episode of the 2% where we interview peak performance from all walks of life to help decode excellence so that you can play a bigger game in both your work and life, close that gap between your current self and your best self.

I’m super excited to have on the show today, Sean Swarner, and Sean is… He’s redefined the impossible by becoming the only person in history to climb the highest mountain on every continent, trekked to the south and north poles, and complete the Hawaii Ironman. But here’s the kicker. He did it all on one lung.

Sean is a speaker, author, peak performance coach, adventurer and a world record holder. So welcome to the show, Sean, and super thrilled to have you here.

Sean Swarner: Appreciate it, Eric. I was thinking when you were talking. On your shows, you have a hundred percent of the 2%.

Eric Partaker: Yeah. I’ve never thought about it that way, but yeah, you’re right. As we explained just before we started here, it’s trying to give people the tools, the strategies, the techniques, the mindset, the activation energy to break free from that 98% and join that 2%. And your story is just absolutely amazing on so many levels. I think the best place to route this is maybe talk about what happened when you were 13… I think it was 13 and 15 years old just to set the context here so people understand what you had to overcome.

Sean Swarner: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity. Wow, how do I even unwrap that whole thing? My life really has taken a different path than most people. So if you back up to when you were 13 years old, you were probably getting ready for school in the morning, say eighth grade, maybe. And you were concerned about being popular, what classes you were going to take, what you’re going to be wearing.

I remember when I was 60 pounds overweight, bald from head to toe, three months into my first cancer, so we’ll get to the second one, and I remember on my hands and knees on the shower floor sobbing and just weeping pulling chunks of hair out of the drain so the water could go down. And because I went through what I went through at that time, I developed a completely different perspective on life and the importance of life.

So there were nights when I literally went to bed not knowing if I was going to wake up the next morning. So imagine laying in bed, going to bed tonight, pretend you’re laying there, you’re terrified to close your eyes because you might not wake up the next morning. That became my M.O. That became what my life was about. I was terrified night after night after night, but eventually, I got used to being uncomfortable. So I became comfortable with being uncomfortable, and this went on for years because my first cancer at 13, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, advanced stage four Hodgkin’s, and that’s when they told my parents, “Hey, your firstborn son has three months to live.”

Eric Partaker: Wow.

Sean Swarner: So from the get-go, when my friends were… Their hormones were kicking in. They were growing hair in unusual places on their bodies. I was losing my hair. I didn’t even have that opportunity to even go through that. And then I was in remission for about a year and a half going in for a checkup for the first cancer when they found a second completely unrelated cancer. And the chances of me surviving, this is crazy, the chances of me surviving both of these illnesses is equivalent to winning the lottery four times in a row with the same numbers.

Eric Partaker: Wow. Wow. That is like… Yeah, that is just unheard of. Statistically speaking, that combination will happen somewhere within the universe, but you must be incredibly grateful that it happened with you. [crosstalk] overcome that and survive.

Sean Swarner: Absolutely, absolutely, because the second time around, they actually told my parents I had an expiration date of 14 days. I remember laying in the hospital bed, and a man of the cloth comes in and starts reading me my last rights. And as a 16-year-old, I looked at my mom really confused. “What the hell is he doing here?” I wasn’t dead. And they in the hospital also wanted me to write out as a 16-year-old, they wanted me to write out a living will. So I have a brother who’s three years younger than I am and kind of tongue in cheek I looked at my mom and my dad and asked them, “Well, isn’t Seth going to get my hand-me-downs anyhow? What does the hospital want?”

Eric Partaker: Why do I have to actually write the will? When you share this, it gives me the chills because before we hit record here, I shared with you that I can’t directly… I haven’t experienced directly what you have, but I can indirectly relate because I spent one year on the pediatric cancer ward of University of Chicago’s advanced medical center, which is one of the premier places in the U.S. for cancer treatment and that was because my ten-year-old brother at the time was diagnosed with stage four alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.

He benefited from some experiment… They said prepare yourself because the odds were in the book, eight-year survival rate, it just said incalculable, which to me, wasn’t a good sign. And I really believe that a big part of his recovery was us, was the support that he had around him because he was just 10. And he recovered, he was the only one out of 22 boys in the nation at the time to actually… Who had that diagnosis who lived.

Sean Swarner: How old were you at the time?

Eric Partaker: When he was 10, I would have been… I was 21. So yeah, I thought I was going to lose him, and it was horrible. I can’t imagine what it was like for him. I also can’t imagine what it was like for you because you were so young at the age, and it must be so scary. Can you talk a little bit about what was the support that you had around you at that time and how that played into the whole thing?

Sean Swarner: Yeah, absolutely. And, first of all, I’m glad to hear your brother’s doing okay now. And I think as you well know, and many people around the world know, cancer is not an individual disease. It pulls the whole family through it. My brother and I will get together, he’s three years younger, we’ll get together every now and then still 20 some years later, have a couple pints and get emotional and say, “I’m so sorry. I took you through that.” He’s like, “I’m sorry too. I wish I would have supported you more,” but looking back at it, I think it was a combination of numerous things that got me through it. Modern medicine, family support, prayer, and just the inner will to get up and move. But I think without all of those coming together, I wouldn’t be standing here right now.

But having that support system, even if people don’t have an immediate family, if you’re surrounded by the proper friends, if you’re surrounded by the right people, a support of individuals to get you through something traumatic like that, they become your family. They know you better than you know yourself sometimes. And I think looking back at it as well, I think oftentimes it’s worse, for me at least, it was worse on my parents than it was on me. Because for them, they couldn’t do anything to help their firstborn son. They couldn’t jump into my body. They couldn’t get in my head. They couldn’t fight the cancer. They couldn’t go through the chemotherapy side effects. That was all me. But without their support, I don’t think that would have happened.

Eric Partaker: Yeah. And I think there’s such a strong message in what you just said right now because I’m equally… I certainly haven’t accomplished all of the feats that you have. It’s just amazing what you’ve done, but I’m equally obsessed with peak performance as you are. And you talk about support there and I think that’s often overlooked. I think a lot of people when they want to achieve at a peak level, they just think about themselves and they don’t think what’s the support infrastructure that I need to create around me to achieve mastery, to get to a peak level?

And maybe that’s a nice segue too. Can you take the people listening through some of those achievements and maybe even before you go there, actually, what prompted that? Why did you want to achieve at such a, can I say, stratospheric level, and the word actually kind of works with the heights that you climbed, but what prompted all of that? And maybe that then can segue to, how did you create the support around you to achieve that since it’s so important?

Sean Swarner: It’s funny because when you asked me that question, I hear my dad’s voice in the back of my head. When I told him, “Hey dad, I’m going to go climb Mount Everest after surviving two cancers with my one lung,” I hear his voice. “We didn’t get you through two cancers to go kill yourself on a hunk of rock and ice.”

Eric Partaker: He had a point though, right?

Sean Swarner: Absolutely.

Eric Partaker: He was trying to protect you. So what prompted that, though? What was the drive for that? Why?

Sean Swarner: So long story short, I graduated college. Went to school in Pennsylvania. Went down to Jacksonville, Florida, and I started working on my master’s and my doctorate. I was going to be a psychologist for cancer patients. I figured I knew a lot of the ins and outs of the mindset that was needed to conquer this disease but I never took time out to think about how it affected my life. I never took time out and stared at myself in the mirror and asked myself those hard questions of who are you? How does cancer help define who you are? What do you want from life? Those type of deep questions. And I realized I couldn’t help anybody else until I helped myself first. It’s like that airplane analogy, losing cabin pressure. You need to help yourself first.

So after doing some research, I realized that I had been blessed with a tremendous mind/body connection, and I knew that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to because of everything I’ve been through. And I knew because I had a different perspective. So going back to that kid in the shower and I guess this really isn’t a long story short is it, going back to that kid in the shower, I remember as a 13-year-old, I didn’t focus on not dying. I focused on living.

Eric Partaker: Nice.

Sean Swarner: So focusing my attention on what I wanted, not the avoidance of what I didn’t want. So what I wanted to do then was reach around the world and give people something I really never when I was battling the disease, which is hope. So I did some more research and found that no cancer survivor had ever climbed Everest before and I wanted to use it as a literal 29,000-foot platform to scream hope and give back to the community. That’s where it started. And then it just kind of spread out through the cancer community and now I’m reaching out to anybody who’s in need of hope, which in this state of the world, I think it’s everyone.

Eric Partaker: Beautiful. And no man or woman ever achieves greatness on their own. How did you create the support around you to achieve these feats?

Sean Swarner: Everest was very difficult simply because people thought it was physiologically impossible to climb Everest with half your lung capacity.

Eric Partaker: I’ve just recently watched a documentary on that risk, and I got to say it scared me because I looked at it and they’re passing some frozen bodies on the way up because they can’t recover them. It’s too dangerous. And it was all a little bit haunting and scary. I’ve suffered from multiple bouts of bronchitis and lung issues. And to hear that you’ve done this on one lung, part of me wants to slap myself and say, “Hey, come on, Sean’s done it. Sean did it. You should be able to do it.” So it’s amazing. So yeah, so tell us about the support network. How did you support yourself?

Sean Swarner: So I reached out to a number of organizations for sponsorship and 99% of them, they wouldn’t even talk to me because when I moved from Jacksonville to Colorado where the Rocky Mountains are… Well, first of all, I realized that if I wanted to climb mountains I probably shouldn’t be living in Florida, which is a giant sandbar. In fact, the highest point in the state is the top of the Four Seasons Hotel in Miami. That wasn’t going to work.

So moving to Colorado where the Rocky Mountains are, I trained and did everything possible, doing something every day to get my body in shape. But when I first moved out to Colorado where I still live now, my office was literally a payphone bank and a library. I didn’t even have a place to stay. I was living out of the back of my car and camping for months. My brother came with me and we finally did get someone to believe in us and it was the organization in Kathmandu who organized the National Geographic’s expedition up Everest, and I figured if they could organize National Geographic, they could probably handle me.

So I reached out to them and bought a spot on their permit, sold my entire life savings to follow a dream, put the team together through the… Peak Promotion is the name of the company in Kathmandu. My brother was at base camp. We had a cook at base camp, two Sherpas, and myself, which is just mind-blowing if you think about it because a normal Everest expedition has 30 or 40 people. A [inaudible], a cook, a numerous number of porters, number of guys. It’s insane, but we were on a shoestring budget, but we didn’t even have shoelaces. So we were on a Velcro budget, I think, but we managed to make it.

And I think it worked out to be better in a way because the only person that we had to worry about was me and the two Sherpas obviously, but one of them had been up… [inaudible] had been up there, I think eight times when I first met him, and then [inaudible] Sherpa had been up there six or seven times as well. So I knew I was in good hands, and it was just the three of us going up and down the mountain together. So as opposed to worrying about five other clients, we just had to worry about myself being acclimated.

Eric Partaker: Wow. Wow. Again, it wasn’t just Everest. You’ve climbed so many peaks across so many continents. We’re just talking about one here. Now, I know you have a new program. What’s the name of it again?

Sean Swarner: It’s called The Summit Challenge and it actually comes from the picture behind me. This is Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, which I’ve been up 20 times now. But first of all, I want to take you up Kilimanjaro if you’re interested.

Eric Partaker: Okay.

Sean Swarner: Secondly, the group that I use, speaking of the team, I’ve used the same locals for the past 18, 19 trips up the mountain. And we now know each other in and out so well, we’re like a well-oiled machine. So much so that the average success rate on Kilimanjaro for every other group is 48%. So 52 people out of a hundred don’t even make it to the top, but the groups I take, I do it once a year as a fundraiser for a cancer charity, the groups I take, we’re at 98% success rate. Double the average.

Eric Partaker: So let’s bring this home here with, if you were to share, so you’re doing something special with that.

Sean Swarner: Something different. Exactly.

Eric Partaker: You’re doing something different and special. So as we wrap our chat up here if you could give the audience one mindset or tip or technique, something practical that they can use to overcome fear, reach that next level, whatever it is, perhaps something that’s driving that difference between the 48 and the 98%, what can you share with us?

Sean Swarner: Understand and fully know, not just what your personal core values are, but where you’re lacking so you can focus that attention. So say family is a tremendous value of yours. And if anyone’s interested, I put together a… I’m looking behind me like I’m looking at tents, but actually, it’s my [inaudible]. So I spent months and months, even potentially years, putting together a core values assessment where it takes people through this.

So let’s just say, for example, I value family as one of my personal core values. What I do then is I rate that on a scale of 1 to 10 on how I’m actually living that value. So how I feel about what I’m putting my energy towards. So if I’m living that value at say a four or a five, family must mean something to me, if it’s one of my personal core values and I can see exactly where I’m lacking, I need to put some focus and attention to that, but going up Kilimanjaro, going towards any goal that you have, if you understand and know not necessarily why you’re doing it, but the purpose behind it, that deeper why I suppose, which would be one of your personal core values, you can overcome tremendous obstacles because the end result means much more than anything that gets in your way.

Eric Partaker: Fantastic. So this summit, is this just a physical event? Is it an online event? What is that and how does that help people tap into their core values so that they can better define… It sounds like what you’re saying is, if you can get deep into what you truly value and attach that to your goals, you can 2X your likelihood for achieving your goals. And I’m doing that as an extrapolation from the 48% to the 98% success rate with everyone else who tries to summit Kilimanjaro versus you and the people you lead. So how do people find this? Is it a program that they join? What is it?

Sean Swarner: So two things. One, there actually is the physical mountain that we go up, just go to Send me a message. I’ll send you information. We’re going July 24th again this year.

And the second one is It’s a series of seven different modules, three weeks per module, where the first one you have to understand what your personal core values are and then you book end your day. Then I work people through vivid visualization. The main component that people miss on the vivid visualization is often times they see themselves doing it, accomplishing whatever it might be, but you have to tap into that emotional attachment because that’s what connects the mind and body. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand.

And then I’ll walk people through mindfulness, the compound effect, the gales, which are the gremlins, the associations, interpretations, and limiting beliefs. So it’s a very comprehensive online program, but I work with people one-on-one to help them get through it. It’s a total of a 21 week program, and it’s called

Eric Partaker: Wow. All right. Sean, this has been short and sweet, but amazing. Anybody listening, if you want to double the chance of achieving your goals, if not more, stuff that’s meaningful for you, stuff that’s important to you, then here’s an opportunity to learn from someone who… What you’ve won the lottery, the equivalent of winning the lottery four times in a row with the same numbers.

So check this out from Sean. I also want to say, Sean, you’ve got a great book called Keep Climbing, and that also talks about the mindset and the vision needed to accomplish just about any goal imaginable and shares a lot of the unique tools that you develop along the way. But yeah, super grateful to speak with you, Sean. I think a lot of people can learn a lot from you. I think it’s so amazing that you decided to do… A lot of people would just be grateful to be alive. For you to have gone through what you went through and then to risk your life with one lung when a lot of people die with two lungs climbing these mountains to give people the hope that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to, as you say if you connect it to the right things. That’s remarkable. That’s commendable. And I think you’re an incredible human being and I’m honored to have spoken with you today so thank you.

Sean Swarner: Yeah, Eric, my pleasure. And I think while you’re talking, I was thinking to myself, I’m more afraid of not living than I am of dying and I want other people to understand that feeling.

Eric Partaker: Yeah. There you go. Thank you, Sean, so much. Really appreciate talking with you today. We’re going to share those links in the show notes and everything. So everyone check Sean out. Sean Warner, SeanSwarner, sorry, dot com. And Sean, thank you so much for joining us today.

Sean Swarner: My pleasure. Very grateful. Thank you.

Eric Partaker: Thanks a lot.

Eric has been named "CEO of the Year" at the 2019 Business Excellence Awards, one of the "Top 30 Entrepreneurs in the UK" by Startups Magazine, and among "Britain's 27 Most Disruptive Entrepreneurs" by The Telegraph.

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