What's your game plan?
What started as sibling rivalry and a way to beat her hockey-mad brother and his friends has taken Sasha DiGiulian on an incredible journey of first ascents. The 24-year-old grew up outside Washington DC, where the most recognizable hill is the Capitol, but DiGiulian is a product of indoor climbing gyms that has brought the great outdoors to a whole new group of enthusiasts.
Despite being just 5 feet 2 inches DiGiulian exudes strength, not only in her arms and fingers but also in her mind and convictions; whether that’s in her goal-setting and ascent preparation or tackling social issues, DiGiulian is methodical and focused.
This is Sasha DiGiulian’s game plan.
Sasha, what sort of a life has climbing given you to date?
Recently I have been turning some pages and chapters of my life looking at a career in climbing that started in the gym and then moved to climbing outside. I’m becoming more aware of bigger adventures and wanting to do first ascents around the world and use climbing as a vehicle to take me to remote locations that I would never otherwise see.
I’d also like to ultimately inspire as many people as possible to learn about climbing. I think that that’s kind of been a goal of mine since I started climbing.
It certainly changed my life for the better. It’s brought me so much self-confidence, and the ability to set goals and learn about myself. Before, I was quite quiet as a kid, now I feel really aware of who I am and confident in my own skin. I think that that’s all because of climbing.
Does climbing allow you escape the life of an average 20-something-year-old?
Today, it’s really hard to be in this world and solely focus on one thing because we have so many distractions and there are so many ways that we can multitask and do a thousand things at once. But climbing is different. It’s a sport where you can create a little area of your life where you can just be solely present, and these are the areas where you can optimally perform.
You’re not taking a selfie on a climb! You have to be solely thinking about what you’re doing when you’re in the crux of a climb because you’re just thinking about how you get your hand or your foot to that next hold. There’s nothing else going through your mind than what you’re doing in that moment.
You were the first American woman to climb grade 9a and free climb Magic Mushroom, one of the most difficult routes on the Eiger. Is there no limit to what you can achieve?
Our minds certainly have limits. I think that when we don’t believe in ourselves and when we can’t see our own goals, then we are limited, but when I can think of something that I really want, whether it’s a climbing goal or something else in my life, then there’s a way to accomplish that goal.
Consistently in climbing, I would say that my greatest achievements have been surprises to me because I’ve never really known that I was capable of doing something until just something happens then it all clicks and I do it. Then I’m like, “Wow, did that really happen?”
You are not solely focused on climbing, with a degree from Columbia University and a very active blog and social media presence.
Climbing is a large part of who I am, but it’s not all of who I am. I think the reason that I don’t just post pictures of myself climbing is because I’m a person and I’m not just a climber.
I was given a lot of freedom as a kid and I think that gave me a lot of room to grow and explore who I was, but with that freedom came this ability to grow and listen to my heart.
I’ve always kept a journal. It’s my way of processing my thoughts each night. Most nights I’ll write and probably 99% of what I write will never be seen by anyone but myself, but it’s my outlet and I think that I experience a similar flow in that act as I do in climbing.
What I believe in is what I will put on my platform because we each have this ability to have a voice. For a long time I know that celebrities and athletes were told, ‘‘don’t have an outspoken opinion, don’t be political.’’ Now I think that it would be a shame not to be political and not to have an opinion because we have platforms that reach audiences, in some cases a much larger reach than some politicians.
I mean in America, I think by 2020, one in two kids will be obese. Obesity is a really large epidemic in the US and actually across the world now. By showing the power of play and what sports can do, not just for physical health but also mental health, is something that I really believe in.
So do the political lights of your home city beckon in years to come?
(DiGiulian laughs) I don’t know at all where I’ll be in 10 years or 15 years, but I’m really excited to find out. I know that the only thing that I want is for me to be able to feel like I went for every opportunity that was really exciting, that I tried my best and then the rest, I can’t really control.