Darlington School: Darlington Connects: Susan Yao ('13) 
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Darlington Connects: Susan Yao (’13)

Vicki Vincent | June 10, 2021 | 603 views

We're excited to connect with our alumni through our Darlington Connects series. Today we hear from Susan Yao ('13), an adventurous computer engineer with Google. 

“Physically never fight with nature; only fight with your mind.”

That’s what Susan Yao (‘13) said was the biggest lesson she learned from her recent trek to the summit of Mt. Everest. Susan took the time to connect with us from Nepal just days after achieving this impressive goal. 

Since arriving in Darlington as a four-year boarding student from China a little over a decade ago, Susan has experienced some amazing feats. Her love for adventure began as a Darlington student when she climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro the summer before her senior year. She said she wanted to experience something different and discovered a love for mountain climbing.

“In the mountains, you are away from civilization and more in tune with yourself and nature,” she explained. 

Susan studied computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and had the opportunity to travel extensively during that time. During college, she made three more trips to Africa and three to Central America, including a trek to Mt. Cameroon in west Africa in 2015. 

After graduating, Susan began work as a software engineer for Google in California, where she still works, and has continued to improve her mountain climbing skills. 

“While I don’t have as much time off for travel, California has great opportunities for hiking and mountain climbing very close by so I can train,” she said. 

Susan has climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington and visited Argentina to climb to the summit of Mt. Aconcagua. 

“I didn’t think I was going to make it to the summit of Mt. Aconcagua,” she said. “It’s nearly 7,000 meters to the top and I was ready to give up! But I met some great people on the trip from Nepal and China who encouraged me to continue climbing, and I completed it.”

After she made it to the top, they told her she should climb Mt. Everest. An Everest climb takes over a year of planning and training and approximately two months to complete. To prepare, Susan focused on her physical strength by doing a lot of cardio and weight training. She did ice climbing training in California and worked very hard throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is an eight-day hike just to get to base camp,” said Susan. “Usually there are two rotations up and back to base camp to acclimatize to the altitude, but because of COVID restrictions, we only took one rotation.” 

Her 10-person team included one to two sherpas per hiker, and only one climber on the team did not summit. 

Susan said she was really only afraid one time during the climb. “My sherpa got sick five hours into our summit day and could not continue, and I had to go on with only the oxygen I could carry myself,” she said. 

It is a physically demanding 48-hour climb to the summit with no sleep or food, and Susan was worried she would not have enough oxygen to make it. However, she did. Once there, they stayed about 15 minutes for pictures before heading back down the mountain. 

“Everyone goes at their own pace back down and I went very fast,” she said. “I hiked down to base camp and was taken by helicopter out in just two days. I couldn’t get down fast enough!” 

Susan immediately began to feel better once she was back to a lower altitude. When asked if she’d ever attempt Mt. Everest again, she said, “Maybe. But if I do, it would be from the China side.” 

Reflecting on her time at Darlington, Susan shared that her experience has certainly contributed to her successes. “The people at Darlington were very supportive of everything I wanted to achieve,” she said.

Her favorite teacher was Raymond Murray, longtime and beloved English teacher who is now retired. “I loved Mr. Murray; he was always smiling,” she said. “I still have my picture with Mr. Murray as my Facebook profile photo.” 

Susan was very strong academically and enjoyed being a part of the crew team. She said she still keeps in touch with many friends all over the world from her Darlington days. 

Her advice to current-day Darlington students is simple: “Don’t be afraid of the unknown and uncertainties,” she said. “Be open to experiences different from your own culture.” 

Susan is thrilled to be a part of Darlington Connects. She would love to connect with other Darlington alumni and talk about her adventures or discuss her work in computer engineering with Google. To connect with Susan, please email connect@darlingtonschool.org.  

Are you a member of Darlington Community (or do you know one) with an interesting career or community involvement? We'd love to spotlight you in a future blog! Please email connect@darlingtonschool.org if you are interested in being featured.