Alumni Highlight: Sally Darlin
Sometimes life throws you curve balls, and Sally Darlin, University of Florida physical therapy class of 1990, wasn’t ready for the one that was thrown her way.
On October 8, 2018, Darlin’s husband, who was the picture of health, unexpectedly passed away — unknowing of a rare genetic disorder. After 28 years together, Darlin’s life partner was gone.
A fellow physical therapist and friend, Luann Tammany, PT, asked Darlin to join her on a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal to trek a portion of the Mount Everest trail and to meet a young girl that Tammany sponsors in a boarding school.
“She thought it would be a healing trip for me,” Darlin explained. “I said, ‘Sure!’ I really had no hesitation about going.”
Despite being 24 hours behind schedule, Darlin made it safely to the tea house in Phakding, Nepal, and met up with Tammany and their Sherpa guide, Ngima Sherpa. The 40 degree weather, paper thin walls and no running hot water didn’t hinder the excitement both Tammany and Darlin felt for the trip they were about to embark on.
The following day brought the duo back to the airport in Kathmandu to book a helicopter flight to Lukla, which sits at 9,360 feet elevation, to start the hike in the Everest region.
“We were handed a card with some safety tips and the helicopter took off while I was still putting on my seatbelt!” Darlin exclaimed. “The feeling of flying over a mountain top to then see down the other side of the mountain as you fly over is amazing. I was nervous for a minute, but our Sherpa said, ‘Don’t worry. When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go!’”
Once they landed safely on the side of a hill, they grabbed their bags to start their trek along the mountain side. The trail wound through small shops and cobblestone streets scattered with giant rocks that reminded Darlin of trails back in North Carolina that she and her family hiked. They even caught a glimpse of the Dudh Kosi, or the Milk River, which had a milky blue-green color.
“We didn’t plan to hike to the mountain, but we did hike 45 miles in five days on the same trail that everyone must take if hiking Mount Everest,” She explained. “When you spend five to six days walking and hiking through nature in such beautiful scenery, you can’t help but feel inspired, healed, and one with the universe.”
Toward the end of their hiking trip, their group took a helicopter ride that landed close to base camp, which sits at 17,600 feet. They flew over glaciers and rivers of ice and were able to see the 12-mile long Kumbu Glacier. Once they landed, they had five minutes to take pictures and soak in the breathtaking
“It was so beautiful to be surrounded by mountains with a clear blue sky. We took a few pictures with our Gator flag and hopped back into the helicopter,” she said.
Their Everest adventure was topped off with a trip to Chautara, Nepal, to visit orphanages and boarding schools. Another helicopter ride was supposed to drop the two off at a military landing pad, but the pilot flew right past it and started circling the playground.
“The children dispersed and we landed in the field. As the chopper and our Sherpa waived goodbye, Luann and I were surrounded by about 75 locals!”
The two were led through the poverty stricken town that was still reeling from the last earthquake. The narrow pathway along the mountain side led them to the boarding school that was still missing its third floor. Despite the hardship, the students were happy to meet Darlin and Tammany and performed a two-hour long show with dancing, singing and speeches about empowering women.
Like Tammany, Darlin was able to sponsor a 13-year-old girl from a remote village called Solukhumbu to support her through school, as Nepal has a problem of human trafficking, and getting these young girls in school is one way to decrease the risk of exploitation.
“It is amazing to see what the owner of the boarding school and the sponsors are doing to have a positive impact on the lives of so many young girls and boys,” Darlin said. She and Tammany were able to visit three additional boarding schools, bringing backpacks and school supplies to the children.
“It would be neat for my son and daughter to see the orphanages and boarding schools and get a further appreciation for all that so many of us take for granted,” Darlin said. “We live our lives with an ‘attitude of gratitude’ and this trip further instilled the belief that this is the way we should live our lives.”
Back in the states and in the Swamp, she started the Darlin Family Scholarship fund for three students in the University of Florida College of Health and Human Performance. This scholarship supports HHP students who also have an interest in pursuing a degree in physical therapy.
“This is the path that I took at UF,” Darlin said. “I have always wanted to ‘give back’ in some way and the opportunity to support students attending the University of Florida and pursuing a degree in PT was the perfect way to do so.”