Into Rock Climbing? Meet Your New Idol, 21-Year-Old Champion Sasha DiGiulian
This girl is taking women’s climbing to new heights. Literally.
by Julie Bensman
Imagine spending a week on the beautiful island of Sardinia, Italy, the hot sun shining overhead, seawater lapping peacefully, and gorgeous mountain ranges standing tall in the distance. Now, transplant yourself to the face of said mountain as you attempt to ascend Viaje de Los Locos—which roughly translates to “Climb of the Crazy People,” and we’re so not kidding—fingertips bleeding as you pull yourself skyward with every ounce of strength you can muster.
Only a handful of men have ever conquered this climb and no woman has even attempted…until last August, when a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pint-sized 21-year-old female climber named Sasha DiGiulian shut. it. down.
“There were certainly moments when I thought, ‘Oh shoot, I’m screwed,'” Sasha recalls with a laugh. “But I tried to erase all that from my mind as quickly as possible. Thinking about falling while still climbing is impractical. When I think about failure, I’ve already failed.”
But fail she did not: Sasha can add this climbing accolade to her many others—including being the only American woman to climb a grade 9a rock. And did we mention she also holds the female US National Rock Climbing Champion title and is a student at Columbia University on top of everything else? Um. Yeah.
Turning a Hobby into a Career
“The second I tried climbing, I knew I wanted to climb again—there was an instant feeling of joy,” Sasha says. When sponsorship deals started coming her way at the age of 12 (no big deal), she learned to negotiate simple product-based agreements. As her climbing skills developed, the stakes of the deals became bigger and money became part of the offers. By the time she was 16, she was negotiating salary-based contracts herself (she is currently sponsored by brands like Adidas Outdoor and Red Bull).
“My goal has never been to make lots of money, but it’s nice when money doesn’t become a limiting factor in pursuing my dreams,” says Sasha. “What I earn from climbing is my ticket to live life freely in pursuit of being the best me I can be.” This means fulfilling goals like traveling the world to climb and attending Columbia University, where she’s currently studying non-fiction creative writing and business.
How Sasha Finds Balance
“Juggling my climbing, school, family, and friends basically boils down to time management,” Sasha says. “I try to be flexible, but I definitely get overwhelmed with feeling like I should be training or studying more. I’ve learned that the best way to combat that feeling is to jump right into attacking my to-do list, prioritizing the pressing matters.” Great advice (but easier said than done though, right?).
Make no mistake: The girl likes to have a little fun in her downtime. “I go shopping for cute things I don’t actually need but will always buy anyways,” she jokes. “I love trying new restaurants and going out dancing, but I also tend to be a bit of a homebody. I like to stay in and help friends cook dinner—I have little motivation to cook on my own.” We know the feeling.
On Handling Failure
“As an athlete, it’s inevitable to have ups and downs in one’s career,” says Sasha. “It’s tough to see past the ebbs and find that flow again. Generally, my plateaus mean I need to give my body rest and be patient. I’ve learned the importance of listening to my body and appreciating when it performs—but also when it’s tired. Resting is part of training.”
When she’s not resting, she takes it to the other extreme, hanging off hundred-foot cliffs by one arm, with nothing but open air beneath her. How can she possibly describe that feeling?
“All you’re thinking is Hold. On.” she laughs. “Because in that moment, there’s nothing else to do. There’s no room to think negatively or complain out loud because no one is there to hear you. Only you are in control of yourself.”
Sasha is incredibly close with her family and core group of friends, and then there’s social media. To say she has a devoted digital following is a major understatement: Think 65,000 Instagram followers, 33,000 Twitter followers, and 132,000 Facebook fans.
“When I’m having a down day,” says Sasha, “my social feed can give me a kick of motivation to keep pushing through. It’s inspiring to see that people actually care what I do…I also take inspiration from other professional athletes who perform at the top tier of their sport. When passionate people share their stories, I am inspired to keep writing my own.”
Wanna Get Climbing?
“Search the closest indoor climbing facility, grab a friend, and just try it!” encourages Sasha. “Rent climbing shoes and a chalk bag, and try a Fast Forward (Intro) Class on climbing basics. Then: PRACTICE. Especially in your first year, the greatest source of progression will come from just climbing routinely. Good luck!”
Read the full story and check out more pictures over at TeenVogue.com