When you hear the name Sasha DiGiulian, you know it comes with an incredible climbing resumé full of accomplishments that are upping the ante for sport climbers globally. When you see 21-year-old Sasha DiGiulian climbing, you know she means business. That determination and focus continues to prove to the climbing world that women are definitely just as capable as men when it comes to conquering an extremely difficult climb and making first ascents.
DiGiulian took on a climb that earned her the right to name the route. On a trip to South Africa back in July 2013, she came across a route (with a working name of “The Overlord”) which had been bolted by Andrew Pedley years ago but never actually climbed. Sasha freed the entire route climbing the first ascent on a suggested grade of mid-5.14 and she renamed it “Rolihlahla” which is the late Nelson Mandela’s middle name.
DiGiulian not only excels in climbing, but she is also a dedicated student attending Columbia University in New York City. Between her packed schedule of traveling, climbing, training and school, I was able to catch up with Sasha to find out more about just how extraordinary she truly is.
National Climbing Examiner: First off, congratulations on your first ascent/new route of “Rolihlahla” among all your incredible accomplishments you achieved in 2013!
Sasha DiGiulian: Thank you!
NCE: Out of your entire climbing career highlights, which would you say was your favorite and why?
SD: My favorite highlight is the highlight that is in the past nearest to the present, because that is always the memory that is the most fresh and the feat that is the most clear. That said, there are turning points in my career that come with certain highlights and Rolihlahla was one of them in that it was the first time that I have done the First Ascent, not just First Female Ascent of a sport climb. This is moving to me because it solidifies my goal to aspire to my own limitations: to define my own realm of possibilities and go for whatever I may personally believe or venture to believe is possible in climbing.
NCE: What is it that sparked your interest in the wonderful sport of climbing?
SD: Sport climbing is a mind-body sport that emphasizes mental perseverance and clarity just as much if not more as it requires physical strength. Excelling in climbing requires mental devotion to a task - an acute sense of body awareness and willingness to try hard beyond the comfort zone. I am intrigued by climbing because there is an unlimited spectrum of possibilities within the sport. There is always a new frontier to explore whether specifically for women in the sport, or on a more macro level, for the sport at whole.
NCE: Women climbers are definitely getting more well-deserved recognition for the amazing feats they’ve achieved. Out of all the greats for women climbers, who has been an inspiration to you and an example you’ve looked up to and why?
SD: I look up to women like Lynne Hill and Robyn Ebersfield for their passionate motivation and dedication to the sport. These two legends pushed boundaries in climbing both in the competition realm and outdoor climbing. I also am inspired by the legacy of Josune Bereziartu of Spain who pushed the level of Women Climbing to a new standard.
NCE: Where was your most challenging climb, and what was it that made it the most challenging for you?
SD: My most challenging climb was in The Dolomites, Italy. This was a multi pitch climb called Bellavista and it was the most challenging because of all of the elements that it included - it was not just a physically challenging route but it also required time, patience, technical multi pitch climbing elements, and stepping out of my comfort zone to commit to a new adventure in a more dangerous, more exposed setting.
NCE: What is involved in a training session for Sasha DiGiulian?
SD: I climb five days a week for 2 - 3 hours each session. I also do cross training that entails core and cardio focused work outs and strength-to-body-weight complex training. My coach is Alexi Thomakos.
NCE: We’ve seen a decline in outdoor activity in kids with the rapid advances of technology or some struggle with juggling between school work and outdoor sports. You’ve managed to juggle between the two quite nicely and continue to progress in both areas. What kind of advice and encouragement can you give kids to stay active by getting outdoors while keeping up with their education?
SD: Physical activity is an incredibly vital ingredient to academic success. Human beings are not engineered to function well in sedentary lifestyles - physical activity is proven to help augment academic success and to enhance the overall wellbeing of people any age. Kids, especially, who have the opportunity to partake in sports are more inclined to succeed in other ventures of their lives. I believe that every kid should have the opportunity to participate in the sport of his or her choice and in the future, I would love to see more support for programs to ensure this possibility. In order to juggle both - being a professional athlete and a Columbia University Student, I live my life according to my own passion - I want to excel in climbing and I equally want to do well in school, so I structure my time accordingly, try not to waste time with unnecessary procrastination, and surround myself by people who are motivated to be the best version of themselves that they can be as well.
NCE: Out of all the climbers, men and women, who has been the most influential to you and why?
SD: Chris Sharma has been an incredible model for climbing as a lifestyle, sport, career, and passion. He has followed his life according to what he is passionate about, and he transcends genuine happiness. Sharma is a perfect example of someone who has made who he is what he wants to be.
NCE: Being a professional climber has given you numerous opportunities to travel to different countries for climbing. Is there one country in particular that you think you could see yourself living there part-time of the year or even make it permanent?
SD: Climbing has certainly served as an amazing passport to see the world. I routinely travel to Spain and I can definitely see myself wanting to have property there - or in Southern France. These two countries boast incredible concentrations of world class climbing that is both established and yet to be developed.
NCE: What do you love most about climbing and why?
SD: I love climbing when I am in my flow and purely existing in my motion. When I am in tune with my climbing, everything else fades away and my thoughts reside solely in my movement. I am in complete control and nothing else in the world matters.
NCE: So what’s next for you? Any specific areas you have your eye on?
SD: For the immediate future, I have class until mid-May. For this stretch of time I will be based in NYC and take small trips when I can according to school breaks. Afterwards, I have summer vacation until early September, so I would really like to travel out West in the US, return to Europe and take up a new multi pitch project, as well as explore parts of South America, specifically Brazil.
There’s no doubt that we’ll be seeing and hearing more of Sasha DiGiulian. The year 2014 just may be the year she conquers a 5.15 with the rate she’s going at. DiGiulian has many years ahead of her to dedicate to climbing, and there’s no question that she will continue to astound, amaze and be an inspiration to climbers around the world.