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After Everest, Swarner tosses first pitch

First Everest, then the first pitch

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CLEVELAND -- The odds stood against Sean Swarner being here Monday. Not everyone, after all, gets the chance to stand on the pitcher's mound at Progressive Field and throw out the game's first pitch.

But here Swarner was on a chilly, breezy Monday night, poised for an experience that, 18 years earlier, he couldn't have thought possible.

Yet all Swarner has done since then is beat the odds. So his standing at the center of Progressive Field as one of the few people invited each season to throw out a first pitch was hardly Swarner's most difficult challenge.

He'd climbed Mount Everest; he'd climbed Kilimanjaro; he'd climbed Mount McKinley.

And he'd beaten cancer. Twice.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes want to give up," he said.

He didn't, though.

More than anything else, Swarner and his fight against cancer personify perseverance. His life is a tale of triumph -- a tale of victory in the face of almost certain defeat.

In way of comparison, he's become to mountain climbing what Lance Armstrong has become to cycling, which should tell people as much as they need to know about the 33-year-old Swarner.

Inside that overly vague capsule of Swarner's life is another story, a story that doesn't often end happily. It certainly isn't a story that people can expect to take a man to the top of Everest.

Before looking down from Everest, Swarner had to look first at his mortality. He was 13 when doctors told him that he had Hodgkin's disease. Their prognosis wasn't encouraging: They didn't expect Swarner to live more than three months.

Treatment after treatment put his cancer into remission, and Swarner proved his doctors wrong.

Had he planned to resume a normal teenager's life, Swarner found doing so impossible: Two years later, doctors diagnosed him with Askin's Sarcoma, another potentially fatal form of cancer.

This time, his doctors gave him two weeks to live.

"They actually administered last rites," he said.

Just like when he had Hodgkins, Swarner beat his Sarcoma. He credited medicine, determination, family and God for playing a part in it all.

In 2002, a dozen years and an unfinished doctorate later, and with only partial use of his lungs, Swarner made the arduous trek to the summit of Everest. He stood there with memories of his teenage years fresh in his mind.

"It was really cold," said Swarner, a native of Willard, Ohio. "I started to cry like a little baby."

With two Sherpas at his side in the rarefied air of Everest, Swarner said he could see the curvature of the Earth. He could also see triumph -- a personal victory achieved against an opponent as tough as any person can ever face.

Victory earned Swarner the honor of being the first cancer survivor to climb the world's highest mountain. Nowadays, he looks at what he's done in climbing mountains as an achievement he proudly shares with others who have personal struggles.

"I hope what I do is motivation to people -- other cancer victims -- to show them what they can do if they don't give up," he said.

Justice B. Hill is a senior writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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