ZION NATIONAL PARK — The day Sean Leary’s body impacted a ridge costing him his life in a Zion National Park BASE jumping accident, his longtime friend and adventure partner Steph Davis, a world renowned rock climber and BASE jumper, spoke with him on the phone about his pregnant wife Mieka Leary, their baby on the way, and future trips they could take after his time in Zion National Park. Sean Leary’s body was discovered 10 days later on March 23, and recovered March 25, approximately 300 feet below the prominent Zion peaks called “The Three Marys.”
There are certain activities some engage in that carry a high risk, risk that is incomprehensible to some and often discounted by others as foolhardy thrill-seeking. And yet, people continue to do these activities. In an effort to gain an understanding of the man behind the jump, St. George News communicated with Steph Davis, an extreme adventure seeker who was also a friend and fellow adventurer with Sean Leary.
Like him, Davis is known for rock climbing, oftentimes without a rope, and like him, Davis BASE jumps from the top of the structures she climbs. She is a BASE jumping instructor and guide for Moab BASE Adventures. She is one of the few people to share the bond with Sean Leary of doing what he did, of doing what she still does.
While Sean Leary was talking with Davis on the phone before his deadly BASE jump he told her that his plan was to make a wingsuit BASE jump in Zion that evening, Davis said. Afterward, he had planned a 10-day work session on a BBC film inside Zion National Park, and then he was going to return home to California to get ready for the baby to come.
“Through a horrible string of unlikely coincidences: work thought he flaked out, Mieka (Leary) thought he was in the backcountry out of cell range for work,” Davis wrote in a post she shared online, “no one realized he was missing for over a week. When he missed his flight home, the community went into overdrive, with family, climbers and jumpers flying to Zion to look for him.”
The recovery team consisted of several of Sean Leary’s friends who traveled to the park once they found out about the accident as well as Search and Rescue crews from Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and several volunteer climbers.
“Many friends and family came to Zion … after hearing about the accident,” Zion spokeswoman Aly Baltrus said in a statement released this week. In fact, several of Sean Leary’s climbing friends helped SAR manage rescue lines set-up to reach his body, while others were on standby to help move his body to the top of the peak in case the helicopter had trouble reaching him.
Sean Leary got into the sport of BASE jumping shortly after his girlfriend Roberta died in his arms after a car accident in 2006, Davis wrote, an accident that occurred between Moab and Salt Lake City – an accident in which he was barely injured.
Just before the 2006 car accident, Sean Leary had bought a house in Moab where he and Roberta had planned to live.
“Roberta fervently told me every time I saw her,” Davis said, “with her blue eyes wide and earnest, ‘we are ‘SO IN LOVE,’ … Sean was devastated.”
Sean Leary and Roberta had climbed and traveled the world together, Davis said. Much of their time, besides being spent in Utah and Colorado, was spent in the Patagonia region of South America and Yosemite National Park in California.
In Moab, he fought to keep the faith after Roberta’s death, Davis said. Friends helped Sean Leary force through the daily motions of life.
In a message to her that Davis related, Sean Leary described how Roberta’s death affected how he moved forward in life.
“The main thing that kept me going after Roberta died was a promise I’d made to her like three days before the accident,” Sean Leary said. Roberta (who was Brazilian) made him promise her that he would live life “al ful,” he said, “that if she died I’d keep living life and doing what I loved.”
After her death, Sean Leary made a wingsuit BASE jump in Patagonia where he and Roberta had spent lots of time together, and he scattered her ashes through the air as he jumped.
“He told me it was a surreal experience,” Davis said “the wind lifting him up so much he thought he would not get down.”
As Sean Leary fought through his own feelings, he later recounted his experience through more messages with Davis, she said, after her husband Mario died in a BASE jumping accident. Davis was devastated and struggling to find meaning in life, she said, and she bonded with Sean Leary because of their shared tragedies. And, she said, he shared grief with her; he said:
Your grief is this giant gaping hole with sharp edges. It’s all you can do to deal with your basic needs, and that’s what your best friends are helping you with now. Soon the sadness will come in waves, and you have to hold on through the intense parts, letting them well up inside you, carry you for a bit, then subside … as you move forward in life the edges soften and other beautiful things start to grow around it. Flowers and trees of experiences.
The hole never goes away, but it becomes gentler and sort of a garden in your soul, a place you can visit when you want to be near your love … . Just hold on. It gets better and you’re not alone. You’re part of this (expletive) little club now, and the other members will come to help heal your pain with empathy and promise. You are going to get through this. Even though this loss will shape who you are forever, you’ll be happy again. You will find peace. I won’t lie, it’s the (expletive) most unfair thing but believe me it does get better.
He continued: “I just had Roberta dreams last night, and I talked with her a lot. It was really special and it made me miss her but I’m still happy. Life is special and death is part of it.”
Years after Roberta died, Sean Leary found love again. He met another beautiful woman named Mieka, Davis said, and he fell in love with her. They married and she is currently carrying their child.
But before the Learys wed, Sean Leary and Davis ran into each other in a village in Switzerland where Leary was flying his wingsuit. “He was so happy – eyes sparkling, face glowing,” Davis said “he had clearly made it through to the other side, and had refound happiness and love.”
Despite his fame, his friend and co-adventurer Davis said that “his greatest talent was for somehow staying out of the limelight, part of his humble, gentle nature” – that nature offered her in her own grief saved her, she said, and gave her hope that she could live and be happy.
Sean Leary helped her get her life back, Davis said. And he kept his promise to Roberta live life “al ful.”
He climbed and wingsuit BASE jumped until the moment he died. Sean Leary was regarded as one of the most prolific rock climbers of his generation, Climbing Magazine wrote, breaking climbing-speed records with famous partners such as Alex Honnold and Dean Potter. EpicTV ranks Sean Leary one of the most prolific wingsuit flyers and American-cliffs BASE jumpers in history.
Ed. note: BASE jumping is an inherently dangerous sport with high risk of injury and death.
- A memorial account has been set up for the benefit of Mieka Leary and the Learys’ baby | Mountain America Credit Union, Sean “Stanley” Leary Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 9001 West Jordan, Utah 84084 | Telephone 801-280-1525
- Search teams locate body of Zion BASE jumper
- Man dies BASE jumping near Moab
- Name of man killed in BASE jumping accident near Moab released
- BASE jumper’s chute does not deploy, fatality in Zion
- Moab BASE jump disaster nearly costs pro-climber life, limb; full hospital interview
- Ammon McNeely talks about his recovery from near-fatal BASE jumping accident
- Zion BASE jumper was famous rock climber, prolific wing suit flyer, renowned stuntman
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