For many of the top athletes at PHS, playing their sport has been second nature for as long as they can remember. However, Brandon Yao ’14 has only recently discovered his passion for running track.
Yao, who is this year’s sprinting captain for both the winter and spring track teams, did not commit himself solely to track until his first year of high school. “In middle school, I played pretty much every other sport you could think of. [When] high school started I wanted to find a sport that I could spend a lot of time in and see the results,” said Yao. “My brother [Johnathan Yao ’11] was a senior at the time, and he encouraged me to come out for the team. After I started training, I really fell in love with the people who trained with me and all the coaches.”
Once he started track, it still took Yao time to find his groove. “I fell short of my varsity letter both freshman and sophomore year,” said Yao. “I got my first varsity letter junior year, and I was really motivated to work hard. Once I started working out more, my times went down, and I realized that I would have potential to run at the next level in college.” Next fall, Yao plans to walk on as a member of the track team at Princeton University.
Becoming a member of the Princeton University track team would be another similarity between Yao and his role model, Thomas Hellstern ’07. Hellstern set many records while at the high school, and went on to run track for Princeton University. Yao is already the only person from PHS to medal and place in both the 55-meter and 200-meter dashes at the Mercer County Indoor Championships since Hellstern did in 2007.
Yao is also motivated by Coach Ben Samara and his chemistry teacher, Dr. Robert Corell, who he sees working out everyday.
Although walking on as an athlete might seem like a difficult route to take, Yao has chosen to go this way. “I was recruited by some Division III schools, but my goal was to attend Princeton for its great academics,” said Yao. “Princeton [also] has the best Ivy League track and field team, and it would be a great honor to be a part of that as well.”
One way that Yao stays fit enough to participate in his sport is by running a diverse training regimen. “I train between the 100 and the 400 because I see myself as not just a 100-meter runner, but [as] an athlete,” said Yao.
During the summers in between track seasons, Yao trains at the university’s Weaver Track & Field Stadium and uses some of the facilities there. He also attends camps where he is coached by Olympians Thomas Jefferson and Adrian Durant. “[The Olympians] really improved my technique. Before, my form wasn’t the best, but they really refined [it],” said Yao.
Some of Yao’s other accomplishments as a member of the PHS track team include being one of four people in his grade to be awarded a Princeton High School athletic hall of fame scholarship and competing at New Balance Indoor Nationals last year in the sprint medley relay.