A welcome addition to the Petzl Athlete Team, 18-year-old Sasha DiGiulian has spent the first months of 2011 re-adjusting difficulty standards for women’s sport climbing. Hailing from Alexandria, VA, Sasha picked up climbing 11 years ago, after her brother’s birthday party, when she was just 7 years old. “I knew from the start that it was something I was extremely passionate about,” says Sasha.
Fueled by that passion, Sasha managed to tick several of the Red River Gorge’s hardest sport routes in March. Few women are climbing in the mid-5.14 range in America or anywhere else, so it attracted some attention when Sasha onsighted a 5.14a called Omaha Beach and then redpointed Lucifer and Southern Smoke, both given 5.14c.
On the heels of her sending spree in the Red, Sasha headed to Boulder, CO, where she won the USA Climbing SCS Nationals, thus qualifying for the upcoming World Cup competition.
It’s clear Sasha is at the top of her game. Below, she answers a few questions on how it feels and how she got there…
An Interview with Sasha DiGiulian
Do your parents encourage your climbing life?
My parents are both supportive. My mom belays me when I train endurance and she loves to come watch the comps.
How do you maintain a balance between climbing and other things in life, like school, family, friends, and other sports or hobbies?
Efficient time management has become key with school and climbing. As for family and friends, I see my family as much as I can and most of my closest friends are in the climbing community. I don’t really play any other sports either. I enjoy running as a hobby and I have been skiing since a really young age, but other than that, my main focus remains climbing.
What climbing areas to you frequent the most?
I wish I had an answer to this, but living in the DC area, there are no close areas to frequent, unfortunately.
What is your favorite place to climb and why?
I love the Red River Gorge because it is never limiting to reaches. There is always something to (try to) grab. Being short, this is a big positive. The longevity of the climbs and the continuous potential for new establishment always impresses me as well.
Sasha DiGiulian sending Southern Smoke (5.14c), Red River Gorge, KY. Photo: © Magnus Midtbø
You recently crushed most of the hard routes in the Red. Did you surprise yourself, or did you plan and train to accomplish those routes?
I definitely surprised myself! I went to the Red just excited to finally climb outdoors again after a long lapse since the summer because of school. I trained to be in good shape at the Red and for Nationals the following week, and I knew that I was in my best shape yet, so I didn’t really know what to expect to send grade-wise. I was just psyched to climb!
How important is training to your climbing?
Climbing is my training! I think that it is essential to climb a lot if you want to improve. I think enjoying that training is more important, and you need to be self-motivated.
What type of training do you do?
For me, climbing frequently, but not for very long sessions, works best. I also run quite frequently and eat healthy… but also lots of sweets. I don’t have a coach and I don’t think it is necessary to have one either. I think that self-motivation is a lot more important than having someone supply you with a structured training regimen.
If you could only own one movie to watch over and over again, what would it be?
That is really tough! Maybe something like Snow Dogs because I love puppies!
Does anyone else in your family climb?
What are your proudest climbing accomplishments and why?
Currently, I am most proud of onsighting 5.14a and redpointing 5.14c.
Are you doing anything special to prepare for Worlds?
From now until June, I will probably boulder more because I will compete in Tour de Bloc, Dominion Riverrock, the Canmore World Cup, the Vail World Cup, and the UBC Comp in Central Park… all of which are bouldering comps. In the midst of bouldering I will try to maintain a decent level of endurance and run to maintain good stamina.
You’re just finishing up high school, right? What’s next? College, hit the road to do some climbing?
I am going to defer my acceptance to Columbia University in NYC until 2012 and just focus on climbing for the next year!
Do the kids you go to school with know that you’re a pro climber? If so, are they impressed? Or do they not get it?
All of the above… They know that I am a pro climber, they are impressed, and they don’t get it!
How important for you is the being-in-nature aspect of climbing?
SD: It’s one of the main reasons I am so passionate about the sport. While I love competing, nothing compares to climbing outside and being one with the rock. When I climb a long route, everything else fades into the distance and all I think about is the next move. That’s the best feeling!
Sasha bouldering in competition. Photo: © Petzl / John Evans
Have you been in any climbing videos?
The Insiders by Big Up Productions
When you were younger, did you dream of being a pro climber?
Of course! But my mom dreamed of me being a ballerina or a figure skater, so… yeah!
Who has had the most influence on your climbing?
Claudiu Vidulescu taught me how to climb at a young age and he was my coach/mentor for many years.
What music is on heavy rotation on your iPod right now?
A mix of Hip-hop, pop, and rap primarily. I enjoy pretty much all music except heavy metal!