Michigan Sport and Fitness - Women's Issue
by Tom Demerly
Rasa Poorman does not recognize limitations. High altitude mountaineer and
skier, Poorman, 36 of Novi, is the prototype of female athletes. She is well
trained, technically proficient, highly motivated and ambitious. Her foray
into climbing has been in contrast to the stereotypical male climbing
community. While women are common in climbing gyms, it seems that almost
every mountaineering expedition has a male/female ratio of almost 5 to 1.
While Title 91
brought growth to women's sports in the last decade,
mountaineering has remained mostly male.
There is no Title 9 at 20,000 feet. Only two thirds less oxygen, hurricane
force winds and sub zero temperatures that freeze flesh in seconds, not to
mention avalanches, crevasses, storms and other objective hazards like high
altitude pulmonary edema. And almost no chance for rescue or survival when
things go wrong.
The hazards of mountaineering are indiscriminate: They do not recognize
gender. Skilled and lucky climbers live, the untrained may escape with their
lives, the unlucky and untrained have a short life span.
Rasa on Kilimanjaro Summit
Poorman has summited some of the most challenging climbs in the world
including Mt. Rainier, Mt. Kilimanjaro and, this January, an attempt on the
highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas-Aconcagua. At 22,841
ft., it is the highest mountain on the South American continent, higher than
anything in North America, or anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.
Rasa Poorman started skiing when she was 8. At 11 some boys dared her to
enter a running race. She won. She went on to race on the boys
high track team for two years, then high school track for four years as MVP
of her team. She graduated in 1982 with 9 school records, two of which still
stand. She works as a Certified Hand Therapist at the Michigan Hand
Rehabilitation Center of Detroit. Her husband, Glenn, is an outstanding
musician and Software Engineer for Autodesk, Inc.
"I don't believe gender makes a difference." Says Poorman about climbing.
Even when pressed to offer examples of what challenges are unique to females
in mountaineering, Poorman offers a long silence and one word answer
"...None." She does concede that "Women in general are more in touch with
their surroundings. The outdoors are a more visceral experience for us rather
Poorman says her motivation comes from a desire to experience life, rather
than observe it. "You can't tell what something is like sitting on the couch
watching it on TV." And what separates the spectators from the achievers?
"Nothing" says Poorman. "You have to make a personal decision to try
something, it has to come from inside. You have to at least try something".
"I think anyone can do it, it is so simple". Poorman believes it is
misunderstanding that prevents people, especially women, from trying new
experiences. "Women should read books by other female climbers. If they just
sit down and learn about it they will see they can do it."
Rasa on Elbert Summit
Although Rasa makes light of the devotion required, she has paid her dues in
climbing with interest. On a climb in Colorado she was separated from a
climbing partner. Alone, without a headlight, maps or other survival
equipment, she made her way down blind, in the dark, to a road where she
began to organize a search for her missing team mate, who turned up a few
hours later safely. On Kilimanjaro Poorman developed a tooth abscess that
had to be treated at 16,000 feet on the mountain. In Tanzania, Africa, there
are no dentists at 16,000ft. Despite the problem, she went on to summit.
Several months ago she fell in a training accident and broke her arm. Still
wearing a cast, she was training again in days. Before her trip to Aconcagua
in January, she will practice a week of avalanche forecasting, crevasse
rescue, glacier navigation and other expedition skills on Mt. Rainier.
To meet Rasa Poorman is to meet a person caught in the current of a life
being lived to the fullest. Short dark hair, athletic build, articulate,
quick to smile but never to pull a punch, she is what she is. You meet the
genuine person when you meet her. If you didn't read this you would never
know she was a climber. She is humble with herself but generous with praise
and encouragement for others. Her husband Glenn is entirely supportive but
does not climb. His time is spent in pursuit of his passion for experimental
music and technology. Rasa feels their separate interests only add to their
relationship. When Rasa boarded the plane to Africa last year for
Kilimanjaro, it was with teary eyes. "I miss Glenn already". The couple kept
in touch via a satellite telephone supplied by Motorola to the climbing
When you finish talking to Rasa you want to go climb something. You believe
you can do it. She has done it, and she says it is easy. So try. Even though
there may be thousands of feet of mountain between you and the top, the
biggest step is the one off the couch, according to Rasa Poorman.
1 Title 9 is a federal ban on sexual discrimination mandating
equality in federally funded school programs and promoting equality in
sports at the high school and college levels.