Sasha DiGiulian has done a lot in four years. But many of the new college grad’s accomplishments have become buried under her high-profile climbing accomplishments. Understandably so — she’s nabbed some of history’s biggest achievements for an American female climber.
DiGiulian is perhaps most widely known for becoming the first American woman to climb a route graded 5.14d, which she did in 2011 with her ascent of Pure Imagination in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, or becoming the first woman (and first American) to climb Magic Mushroom on the Eiger in 2015. These ascents are just the beginning of DiGiulian’s list of successes, however. This world champion competitive climber has spent the last four years going to school full time at Columbia University studying nonfiction writing and business, training six days a week and traveling all over the world for events and public speaking engagements, which she does on her (very) short weekends.
Even in the span of five days between her Columbia coursework ending and May 18 graduation day, DiGiulian traveled from New York to Denver, San Francisco, Australia and back. But for the fiercely determined yet happy-go-lucky DiGiulian, she wouldn’t dream of trading this unconventional lifestyle for a traditional college experience. So what will she do next?
Four years, looking back
Though she got her start as a competitive indoor climber, DiGiulian quickly broadened her horizons. “In my opinion, the idea of ‘the best climber in the world’ is an arbitrary statement and over-generalized title,” DiGiulian said. “There are so many different facets to the sport; I want to develop a foundation in all of them.”
DiGiulian did this, on her summers off school, by diversifying her climbing résumé beyond the realm of sport climbing, where she got her start. She climbed her first alpine route, Bellavista (5.14b), in Italy in 2013 with Spanish climber Edu Marin. The following summer she and Marin climbed the 1,000-foot Viaje de Los Locos (5.14a) in Sardinia, and in 2015 she made quick work of one of the hardest routes on the North Face of the Eiger.
In the span of just a few years, DiGiulian has graced 26 magazine covers and won countless awards, from the Arco Rock Legend Award to an award presented by Congress for her role in the women's empowerment movement and individual achievement. It’s ironic to think that DiGiulian’s most prolific times and greatest climbing achievements were realized during her college years.
“I have learned to be okay with the highs and lows that we experience as athletes and the sacrifices that are necessary at times.”Sasha DiGiulian
Not always fun and games
The past four years of juggling school, training and travel hasn’t been easy. “It’s taught me a lot about time management and patience,” DiGiulian said. “I have learned to be okay with the highs and lows that we experience as athletes and the sacrifices that are necessary at times.”
Learning to balance weekly travel obligations for events, video shoots or speeches gave her a whole new set of obligations, time commitments that are sometimes overlooked.
“Traveling a lot is romanticized to this exhilarating privilege, which it certainly is,” she said. “Though at the same time, it can be taxing and distractive. Honestly, I still have not mastered this balance between professional obligations, school work and pure athletic performance, but I have come a long way personally with managing my schedule and being efficient with my time.”
The next chapter
Following her time at Columbia University, DiGiulian is perhaps most excited at the prospect of simply having more time.
“My immediate plans involve climbing-centric goals,” said DiGiulian, whose summer travel plans will take her through Colorado, Montana and Brazil. She also plans to free climb Yosemite’s El Cap and made mention of attempting an alpine climb in Patagonia. “I also want to write a book,” she said. “I feel like everyone has an intriguing story to tell.”
Sitting on the advisory board of the Women's Sports Foundation and being a global ambassador with Right to Play and Up2Us Sports, DiGiulian’s reach goes far beyond inspiring people with her story of climbing achievements. This climbing phenom is poised to make an impact on the world of women in climbing and sports.
DiGiulian said, “Strength and femininity are continuously set as these mutually exclusive categories. I think that the role of female athletes, in particular, is to challenge this idea, to demonstrate that female strength can be beautiful. I would like to use my platform as a female rock climber to encourage young girls to not be afraid of creating their own paths, even in male-dominated industries — whether in sports or otherwise.”
Sasha DiGiulian's highlights from the last four years:
• Started Columbia University
• TedX talk in Montreal
• Became a Women's Sports Foundation Ambassador
• Won three gold medals at the Pan-American Championship for women in Sport Climbing, Bouldering and Overall
• Won Climbing Magazine’s Golden Piton Award
• Won Arco Rock Legend Award
• Joined Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority
• Became spokesperson for Up2Us Sports
• Keynote Speaker at the International Climbers Festival
• First Ascent of Rolihahla (5.14b) in South Africa
• First Female Ascent of Bellavista (5.14b), Dolomites, Italy
• Sat on panel with Equinox at South By Southwest
• Became spokesperson for Right to Play International
• American Alpine Club Award Recipient: Bates Award
• First Female Ascent of Viaje de Los Locos (5.14), Sardinia, Italy
• First Female Ascent of Thanatopsis (5.14b) Red River Gorge, Kentucky
• ESPNW panel member
• Award presented by Congress for role in women's empowerment movement and individual achievement
• Speaking engagements in Slovakia, Vancouver, Ohio State University
• First Female Ascent up the North Face of the Eiger, The Magic Mushroom
• Ascent of Peace (5.13d) in Yosemite, CA