By Aarushi Puri
Not many dreams that sprout in the halls of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine take shape at the peak of Mount Everest, but Dr. Kumaran Rasappan’s did. The soft-spoken 27-year-old doctor is the first Singaporean to have climbed Everest for a charitable cause. He first saw the peak of Everest from an aircraft cockpit when he was a secondary school student, but his inclination to climb Everest surfaced in 2008–his third year at medical school. What inspired such an outlandish idea? The picture of a Romanian teammate from the NUS rock-climbing club atop the highest mountain in South America was a major catalyst.
Dr. Kumaran climbed his first mountain, Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa, as a third-year student. From that point forward, he “started planning for big things” after graduation from the NUS School of Medicine in 2010 and began work at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The plan was to climb a series of mountains all over the globe, taking a year off from work, with the goal of raising money for the hospital’s community charity fund. Even so, finding sponsors for his project, “No mountain too high”, proved to be more difficult than he had ever envisaged.
Indeed, the challenges had only just begun. The lack of support and skeptical attitude from the hospital, his peers and those whom he believed would sponsor him marked the nadir of his journey. Dr. Kumaran nearly surrendered the entire idea two weeks before he was to set sail on his year-long no-pay voyage because he could not find sponsors. But in a most fortuitous turn of events, an interested organization contacted him and “everything fell into place at the right time”.
Despite his diligent preparation—tying ankle weights to his legs and carrying a 25 kg backpack up and down HDB apartment buildings, for example—there was much he encountered on his way which he simply could not have trained himself for. Tackling unexpected failures was one of them.
“Everest seemed very far away after my failures at the first two climbs, and I wondered to myself what I was going to do. But in the end you just have to live in the moment and enjoy whatever you have,” he said.
The journey is the most important, he added. Yet, one cannot deny the sheer exhilaration he must have felt upon arriving at the summit of the highest mountain in the world.
A video which captures a part of his climb up to the summit shows us, however, the other side of this seemingly picturesque image. His heavy breathing, the steep, fatal drop on his right and the lifeless bodies of other climbers strewn along the snow-capped mountains is unnerving, and one cannot help but marvel at his grit. According to Dr. Kumaran, the sublime sunrise that met him as he approached the summit made everything worth it.
“You are standing at the highest point and everything is below you. You can see the whole of God’s creation and that is the moment when you feel the four years of planning have been worthwhile,” he reflected.
His self-initiated endeavor and passion have been worthwhile for others too. His climb has raised almost $30,000 for the hospital’s fund, and this number is set to rise further—he has pledged all future funds received through his publicity. Apart from helping needy Singaporeans pay their medical bills through the fund, Dr. Kumaran had another aim in mind. He felt that the Sherpa people, an indigenous ethnic group of Nepal and one of the main reasons why foreigners are able to reach the Everest summit every year, are highly underappreciated. Notwithstanding their meager physical stature, Sherpa people aid climbers with unparalleled motivation and will.
Dr. Kumaran wanted to make a sustainable and valuable difference in their lives. Over the year, he raised money for a school and set up a clinic, which has since sparked interest in other doctors and organizations who seek to improve the sustainability of community projects in the area. Other volunteers continue to make an impact through the pioneering venture that he has set up.
“I tried to give back to them [the Sherpas] in whatever way I could. I could not have done it [climbed Everest] without them,” he said.
“Hundreds of people make their way to Mount Everest each year, but very few make their way to the hearts of the native people. He has given something to the people. That inspires me,” said one Nepalese student currently studying in NUS.
According to Dr. Kumaran, “everyone is climbing his or her own Everest.” He elaborated that it does not matter whether other people acknowledge your work “as long as you know what you are doing it for and as long as you feel satisfied at the end of the day.” He remarked that one important lesson he garnered from his journey was the importance of carving out a path based on what you are passionate about, no matter how different or difficult it may be. Dr. Kumaran’s odyssey certainly taught him some lifelong lessons. He realized that it was not just about climbing Everest.
“It’s about dreaming big and believing in the dream no matter how many people are against it,” he said.
In the wake of his project’s success, Dr. Kumaran has finally decided to take some time off—much to his family’s relief. While his hobby might have given him an adrenaline rush, it worried his family to no end.
“It’s God’s blessing that he has come back alive!” his mother exclaimed.
Now that he is back, he is no longer Dr. Kumaran. He is Dr. Kumaran who climbed Mount Everest, and it is this title that he has to live up to in his future undertakings. Certainly, his return by no means marks the end of the challenges Dr. Kumaran will have to face. Nevertheless, Dr. Kumaran’s feat has demonstrated to us all that in the relentless pursuit of our passions, there really is no mountain too high.