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Cancer survivor Sean Swarner dons Broncos cap at top of the world


Think Interstate 25 can be difficult to navigate on a Friday afternoon? Try getting to the North Pole.

There's no easy path to where the Earth's axis of rotation meets its surface.

One such path from Denver goes like this: Denver to Dallas to London to Oslo to Tromso to Longyearbyen to base camp. From there, one must board a helicopter to the 89th parallel and ski north.

How far? Well, that depends. Sean Swarner had to ski nearly 80 miles to reach the North Pole in early April. That journey over a polar ice cap completed Swarner's Explorer's Grand Slam, which he says sounds like a Denny's meal.

It's a little more impressive than that. Swarner, who is believed to be the only person to survive both Hodgkin's lymphoma and an Askin's tumor, a type of sarcoma, has reached the Seven Summits — the highest peak on each continent — and both the North and South Pole.

And when the 42-year-old Coloradan capped off the Grand Slam, he did so wearing a Broncos hat.

"I took it up there and I thought, you know, why not?" Swarner said. "I had some sponsors that I took up there … but I thought, why not? I'm pretty certain – I'm probably 99.9999 percent certain that the Broncos have never had any swag up at the North Pole.

"It's something light, it's something I can carry up there and represent the Broncos at the top of the world."

Ball caps, in general, carry extra significance in Swarner's life.

When Swarner was a teenager and got sick for the first time, he lost his hair as he underwent treatment. A few years later, when he was diagnosed with another form of cancer, that collection continued.

The small assortment swelled to nearly 100 hats. In the summer heat, the caps gave a 16-year-old Swarner a way to avoid both a wig and attention.

The hats had a variety of logos: football teams, baseball teams, swim teams and one that his dad made him.

When he moved to Colorado in 2001, a Broncos hat became a natural addition.

"I still wear baseball caps," Swarner said. "It just kind of is my persona. It's almost like a reminder of where I came from with the two cancers. Even the fact that I'm that I'm the only person in the world who's accomplished what I have, cancer or no cancer, it's a reminder of where I came from and the possibilities of where people can go."

The hat made sense for the new Coloradan; the team was a little bit more of an adjustment. Swarner, who grew up in Ohio, became a Browns fan after his dad helped him get into football at an early age.

It was easy for him to get into the sport. Swarner's second cousin is legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, and his mother's father was family friends with Ohio State coach Woody Hayes.

Just as Swarner's Michigan ties won out over Ohio State, his Cleveland allegiance switched to the Broncos shortly after he arrived in Colorado on the heels of Denver's first two world championships. And though he's lived all along the front range, he's seen a consistent dedication to the team.

"The way that people in the Denver area, and even the Colorado area, support the Broncos and the teams here, it's different than in Cleveland," Swarner said. "I don't want to say people here are more into it, but they're more supportive almost. Even when the Broncos aren't having a good season, it still feels like that support's there."

Swarner's gesture at the North Pole is emblematic of that support.

His method of showing it, though, means far more.


For more information on Swarner's life and journey, please visit

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