Feature: Sasha DiGiulian, climbing's rising star
The Red Bulletin spoke to adventure sports' most compelling new name, climber Sasha DiGiulian.
Sasha DiGiulian's never in one place for long, and her attack of Rodan (South Africa) – a route no female has yet completed – is no different. A swivel of the torso, a deft repositioning of her pointed right foot, and a controlled pull on the grips has her another step closer to the light.
DiGiulian owns three US national titles and is the world's top-ranked female outdoor rock climber. But it's the 20-year-old's achievements outside of competition that have gained her notice in the rest of the action sports world.
I don't really know what I'm capable of. But I like to find out.
Her taming of the spiked, inhospitable wall known as Pure Imagination in Kentucky's Red River Gorge in October 2011 made her the first American woman ever to climb a 9a route.
How hard is 9a? More than 50 women have been to space; DiGiulian is one of three worldwide with a 9a on her record. She is also the youngest of the bunch.
As a kid growing up in Alexandria, Virginia, DiGiulian did everything from swimming to soccer to tennis. But it was another one of her childhood pursuits that convinced her to dedicate herself to climbing.
“At the time I was beginning climbing I was also a competitive figure skater,” she says. “And to practise certain jumps, we would wear a safety harness like the one we used at climbing. But I remember every time I put it on, all I could think was that I'd rather be at climbing practice.”
Arjan de Kock, the world-class South African climber playing host and partner on this trip, first saw a 16-year-old DiGiulian in 2009, “doing some really hard climbs” in Spain.
Above all, she's driven, focused, and very amped for life. Now she also has this ingrained confidence that she can climb at the limit.
Arjan de Kock, climber
Following a year-long break after high school to travel and climb exclusively, she got accepted at Columbia University, where she's majoring in creative writing with a business concentration. “I see myself climbing for the rest of my life,” she says, “but sports marketing has my eye as something I'd like to do one day.”
In 'city girl' mode, DiGiulian bikes and runs for general fitness, and five days a week she hits the indoor wall at Chelsea Piers on Manhattan's West Side. When her schedule permits, she travels to competitions on weekends.
On this rocky outcrop tucked away in trout-fishing country, not far from South Africa's eastern border with Mozambique and the reclusive Kingdom of Swaziland, all that seems far away.
You're out there taking big, dangerous falls. You're going up there and causing a ruckus on the wall, defying gravity, defying fear. It’s a new form of rebelliousness.
There's a reason no female has conquered Rodan before. DiGiulian's petite build and agility are assets for a certain variety of move, but this next one is better served by height and brute force. Even the potent de Kock struggled here earlier in the day.
And then WHOOOOOSH … and for a moment the world's top-ranked female outdoor climber is drifting in thin air, 30 feet above a rocky path.
This feature can be found in the October 2013 US issue of The Red Bulletin, the global monthly magazine.
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To find out more about Sasha DiGiulian, visit her website: www.sasha-digiulian.com.