A kindred grief; fellow BASE jumper, friend remembers Sean Leary’s quest to live fully

Sean Leary with his dog Nexpa, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Steph Davis, St. George News

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.”

Sean Leary's body was found below these peaks, the "Three Marys" March 23, 2014 after he fell to his death BASE jumping, Zion National Park | Photo taken Oct. 2013 by John Teas, St. George News
Sean Leary’s body was found March 23, 2014 below the peaks known as “The Three Marys,” shown in the background. Leary died on impact BASE jumping. BASE jumping is illegal in the park. Zion National Park, Utah, October 2013 | Photo by John Teas, St. George News

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.

Resources

  • 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

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

 

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15 Comments

  • Willard March 28, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Bill the surviving family members for every last bit of the rescue/removal costs for the base jumper illegal activity.

    • Drew March 30, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Willard, really dude??? What do you even care? Did they send the bill to you?? you sir are truly scum.

  • Tom March 28, 2014 at 10:48 am

    That is a messed up thing to say. How is the family responsible for it? I guess I should blame your family for the dumb things you say.

  • Bub March 28, 2014 at 11:06 am

    good article

  • Not March 28, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Not sure why this article is focusing on his EX, while his current wife gets one small paragraph?

    • skip2maloo March 29, 2014 at 10:25 am

      Because the article is derived from a write-up by Steph Davis posted on her site, High Infatuation. Davis’ piece is well worth reading.

  • Joanna March 28, 2014 at 11:25 am

    I am so sorry that his pregnant widow now has to endure the grief that Sean felt when Roberta died. What a senseless way to die. Hopefully this will awaken the BASE jumping community to the sheer lunacy of this activity so we don’t have to lose anymore good citizens and put forth the expense and effort of recovering bodies. I share Sean’s quest to live fully, so I started eating healthy, and took up golf and yoga. It has been thrilling, fun, and what do you know, I am still alive and well.

    • skip2maloo March 29, 2014 at 10:18 am

      Unspoken message: Living “fully” consists of living as long as you can and in a manner that I feel is reasonable.
      Tone: Condescending and passively aggressive.

  • Bub March 28, 2014 at 11:46 am

    It sound like his risky adventures were a way that he coped with the trauma he ensured and his close call with death. Some folks find Jesus I guess and others find whatever else…

  • Kirstie March 28, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    I knew Sean a little. Keep thinking that he understood the dangers of his work – promoting and opening exits for flight suit base jumping around the world. He has lessons to teach us all in that he clearly loved what he was doing and lived his life fearlessly, pushing at the accepted constraints of what is possible. He literally flew. In my forties, I want to find my way back to that much joy – abandon. He missed out on being a father and his child and wife missed out on spending their lives with him. I’m so happy that I was able to experience being a mom. That said, his life stands as an example of taking advantage of the few short years we have and try to do or be extraordinary. So many people are complacent or unfulfilled or stuck. While I’m not planning to start base jumping, I hope that I can figure out a way to take the talents I have and do more than I’m doing today. There must be some extreme – daring way that I can live. I think it is how to find joy. I admire Sean Leary.

    • skip2maloo March 29, 2014 at 10:12 am

      Yes! Although I wonder if it’s not so much a desire to be extraordinary (though that comes with the pursuit) as it is an urge to do differently than the mundane existence many settle for, which you mention. I’ve been pushing back on the mean and vitriolic responses to his death in the new articles here and elsewhere and the fear/hate/disdain that fuels them. Your comment is refreshing.

  • Friend March 29, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Sean was deeply loved by his friends and family. He continues to be celebrated for his life. See this link. http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=29254235#j0Wle3UFzK9e8iVE.01 This article does focus on Roberta as a pivotal experience in Sean’s life. And he lived on which meant coming to love his wife very much as the article states. If you are moved by the story, and would like to contribute to the family, a fund has been set up in his name for his child. He was recovered by his friends and remembered lovingly by all who knew him.

    Mountain America Credit Union
    Sean “Stanley” Leary Memorial Fund
    P.O. Box 9001
    West Jordan, UT 84084

  • notrololol March 29, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    Must be sad for his wife. RIP, man.

  • another jumper April 14, 2014 at 12:17 am

    Joanna, great comment, I needed a good laugh. “I share Sean’s quest to live fully, so I started eating healthy, and took up golf and yoga.” Thrilling, huh? You’re the kind of people we make fun of, that we point to as examples of how we DON’T want to live. Sitting on your couch, quietly, contendedly dying without making a sound, never getting out of your comfort zone to see what the world really holds, because you’re so afraid of getting hurt, emotionally or physically. Great job staying safe, but the world already has an overabundance of fat, lazy, scared, people. Sean was a pioneer and a leader, and will be remember all the more so precisely because he died doing something he loved, rather than like so many who whither away alone and forgotten in some nursing home.

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