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NUS flag flies high with intrepid mountaineer

01 October 2012

Dr Kumaran (right) and moderator Mr Viswa Sadasivan, Chairman of the U@live Organising Committee, sharing a light moment

To stand on top of the world and realise there are yet greater things to be accomplished, especially for the less fortunate - that was the experience of Dr Kumaran Rasappan, an alumnus of NUS.

The doctor at Tan Tock Seng Hospital is as committed to making a difference as he is to scaling great peaks. Speaking at NUS' U@live forum on 26 September, Dr Kumaran shared first hand how he overcame seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, not just physical but also mental, to plant the Singapore flag on the pinnacle of Mount Everest.

As a member of the NUS intervarsity climbing team, he was inspired by a Romanian fellow climber to aim big. Thus began a four-year training that paved the way to Everest. Among his photographs depicting base camps, climbing routes and distant peaks were the familiar University colours of blue and orange. "I was always proud to be from NUS and the School of Medicine," he explained, "and I brought my NUS flag along wherever I went!"

During this period, Dr Kumaran continued to serve others in his medical capacity. On a trip in Xinjiang, China, he tended to a porter's young daughter who was scalded on her face and arm. Even though he only received a simple "thank you" from the father, he recalled: "That was one of the most grateful, satisfying 'thank you's' I had ever received as a doctor."

His passion to help the needy drove him to start a programme known as No Mountain Too High which has raised S$35,000 to pay medical bills of Singapore beneficiaries. As he prepared for his summit attempt, he spearheaded an initiative to raise funds and bring medical supplies to communities in Nepal. There, he helped set up a computer lab for a village school and a clinic that now serves 8,000 people.

Finally, at 6.55am on 26 May, after years of hard work, sweat and tears, Dr Kumaran fulfilled his dream of standing on the roof of the world. Asked about his feelings, the intrepid mountaineer stressed that it was the journey, rather than the destination, that mattered most to him.

"How is success measured? Is it to climb to the summit of Everest?" he asked. "If I had turned back 15 metres from the summit, I wouldn't be here talking to you; I would be an amateur climber who hadn't 'succeeded.' But I would still have experienced the things that I wanted to experience. I would still have gone to the same places, met new people, embraced new cultures and seen the things that I wanted to see - I would have been successful in my own way. It's not just about the summit; it's about dreaming big and believing in the dream."

Besides answering questions from the audience, Dr Kumaran also addressed issues raised by online viewers of the U@live session. He confirmed that he would be returning to Nepal soon as part of a broader programme to continue rendering assistance to rural communities in need.

Asked on his next goal, he replied: "To be a good doctor one day - that's my next challenge."