After recently climbing the tallest mountain in Africa, two Centerpoint Medical Center employees say they’re reaffirmed that anything is possible with a little hard work and lots of determination.
Dan Thieman, supervisor of noninvasive cardiovascular services, and Becky Rumfelt, a cardiovascular technician, reached Uhuru Peak, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, on Jan. 26. In a self-described sibling-like relationship, Thieman and Rumfelt share adventure-seeking interests of backpacking and hiking and have taken several U.S. trips together in the seven years they’ve known one another.
“She’s exposed me to white-water rafting – that’s awesome,” Thieman, 41, says, pointing of a photograph above his desk of the pair on a trip in Colorado.
Thieman’s love of Mount Kilimanjaro dates back several decades. In the 1990s, while finishing college, Thieman read a newspaper article that piqued his interest in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro one day. In 2009, he took initial steps, literally, in taking a day hike to the Maundi Crater on Kilimanjaro.
“It only made me want to climb to the top even more,” Thieman says. “I came home, told Becky all about it, and I said, ‘We should climb that mountain.’ I knew she would do it.”
Already in decent shape, Thieman and Rumfelt pushed themselves harder in preparation, adding lots of stair climbing and hiking with 40-pound backpacks. They also did lots of cardio, including biking, to keep their legs in shape.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t prepare for the altitude,” Thieman says. “We joked: ‘What do we do? Exercise with a plastic bag over our heads?’”
The trip marked Rumfelt’s first trip overseas, while Thieman had already visited Africa twice. Once they reached Africa, Thieman remembers his reaction as, “I was excited to go. Let’s just start climbing this mountain.”
The pair opted for the fastest trip to the top and back down, reaching the summit in four-and-a-half days, as opposed to a 9- or 13-day trip that allows participants to acclimate to the altitude changes.
“I would have been bored,” Thieman says. “(Becky) would’ve been, too.”
They awoke at 6:30 every morning and were hiking by 8:30 a.m. Thieman’s and Rumfelt’s group included a head guide and three assistant guides, as well as eight other Americans with similar goals in making the climb. The porters, which the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project calls “the heart and soul of your trek,” carried food, tents and other essentials.
“We made, probably, lifelong friends with the rest of that team that was with us,” Thieman says. “We worked like a cohesive unit, the other people who were in our group.”
Everything went well, Thieman says, until the next-to-the-last day, Summit Day, which started at midnight. (It took the group just a day-and-a-half to climb back down.) At 17,000 feet, Thieman asked himself, “Good grief, what have I gotten myself into? It’s so hard to breathe.”
Page 2 of 2 - “But, I just paced myself,” he says. “Becky was determined that she was not going back without making it to the top. And, I have to admit, I was, too. There was a moment where I thought, ‘Can I do this?’”
The sun was just beginning to rise when Thieman and his teammates were handed cups of hot, sweet tea, “and that gave me the energy to get to the top,” he says.
Thieman’s official certificate from an African parks department, which he had framed, states that he made it to the Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro at 19,341 feet, at 7:50 a.m. on Jan. 26.
“It was the hardest exercise I’ve ever done,” Thieman says. “(Becky) said the same thing – and we both did it. I have to admit, this just reinforces me thinking there’s not anything that I really can’t do if I set my mind to it.
“You can do it. Anybody can set a goal and do it. You have to tell yourself, ‘I’m going to do it.’”
He and Rumfelt wanted to display their pride in Centerpoint Medical Center at the top, so they enlisted Gene Hallihan’s help in creating a special, lightweight banner that they could show. Hallihan is Centerpoint’s director of marketing and public relations.
“I haven’t returned it,” Thieman says, “because we’re already talking about where we want to go to next.”
The Inca Trail in Peru and the Annapurna trek in Nepal are among the potential locations for a future adventure. The problem with taking trips like the one to Kilimanjaro, Rumfelt says, is meeting other outdoor-focused individuals who’ve taken trips, “so you want to do that, too.”
Rumfelt turned 50 in January, and she described climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as “the big 50th see-what-I-can-do trip.”
“I would put it on everybody’s bucket list,” she says. “It was an experience of a lifetime, just to see other cultures and how fortunate we are here in the United States. To be able to climb a 19,000-foot mountain is pretty cool.
“It taught me that really anything is possible. We weren’t going to give up for anything.”