Junior celebrates special leap year birthday

Katherine celebrates her fourth birthday as a sophomore.

Eric Hang

Katherine celebrates her “fourth” birthday as a sophomore.

Shani Israel, Staff Writer

The odds of being born on a Leap Day are one in 1,461. People are about three times more likely to be born with an extra finger or toe. Junior Katherine Yao, however, is a Leap Day baby.

Yao was born at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston on February 29, 2000. Miraculously, she was even born at 12:02 AM, becoming the first 2000 Leap Day baby in Texas.

“Afterwards, we just got giant stuffed animals and Leap Frog stuff and baby food from the hospital,” Katherine said. “We had diapers for the rest of my life.”

Yao’s parents were not expecting their baby to be born on February 29th, and they were slightly disappointed about the birth date.

“My mom actually got to the hospital on the 27th to try and have me, but I would not come out, so they had to induce labor on Leap Day,” Yao said. “My mom didn’t want me to be born on the 29th because she knew it’s fun to have a birthday every year.”

While some Leap Day kids are frustrated that their birthday does not appear on the calendar, Yao does not mind.

“I always thought it was kind of cool, and I was so proud of it. When teachers said, ‘Oh, you were born on the 29th?’, I would happily say yes.”

Many Leap Day babies claim March 1 as their birthdays, but Yao prefers to mark her age each February 28. As a joke, some of Yao’s friends like to think that her birthday only occurs once every four years.

“They think it’s funny, that I am four-years-old. One of my friends told me, ‘You’re almost four and a quarter.’ ”

Despite her friends’ teasing, Yao is not ashamed or upset about her birthday. She sees numerous advantages to having a birthday on Leap Day.

“On Leap Day, restaurants and bakeries across the greater Houston area give you free food, so if I go to Sprinkles Cupcakes on Leap Day, they give me a free dozen cupcakes.”

Another perk of having a Leap Day birthday is having a large celebration every four years with her friends and extended family.

“In sixth grade, we brought stuff for the entire grade. It was crazy,” she said. “My mom made little boxes with jelly beans and added pictures with my face on it.”

Last year, Yao’s friends surprised her with a scavenger hunt around Houston, taking her from Sprinkles Cupcakes, Zoe’s Kitchen, and Juiceland to the Rice University Turrell Skyspace, Discovery Green, and various art walls.

“I was so surprised,” Yao recalled. “My friends were so sweet. They had a document with all the places planned out and all these nice and funny memories they had of me. It was so special.”

While every birthday is fun to celebrate, Yao enjoys the attention and feeling that comes with Leap Day every four years.

“Celebrating my birthday on Leap Day does feel different, but it’s not something that I think of as super unique,” she said. “My mom likes to remind me how February 29 was added to the calendar to ‘maintain harmony’ and balance out the year. It also feels nice to be showered with attention.”

The excitement of having a unique birthday slowly diminished as she matured.

“When I was younger, it was more cool than it is now,” she said. “It was definitely a bigger deal back then.”

The major downside of a Leap Day birthday is not having a traditional annual celebration, but Yao cared less and less over the years.

“When I was little, I didn’t have a birthday party every year, so I guess that was kind of disappointing,” Yao said. “But it’s not bad anymore because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that birthday parties aren’t the most important thing in the world.”

Yao has learned to cherish her birthdate and prefers it over any normal birthdate.

“It is actually pretty fun getting to look forward to it every four years,” she said. “My parents and friends make sure that it is really special.”