As with mountains, when some people see gigantic rocks or cliffs, they must climb them. And then they must have contests to see who can climb them the fastest. And of all the female rock climbers in the world, 18-year-old Sasha DiGiulian of Alexandria is tops — she won the gold medal at the 2011 International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championships in Arco, Italy, late last month.
Sasha recently graduated from the Potomac School in McLean, and for her senior project she created this blog-Web site. And this is how she excitedly broke the news of her gold medal: “I am very satisfied with my results at the World Championships.” And you have to read down about two more pages before you find out, oh, she was the overall champion, defeating women from all over the world, most with far more climbing experience.
She flew to Austria last week for the “Adidas Rockstars Event,” then to Salt Lake City this past weekend for a promotional event, and as you read this she should be back in Austria. She has been accepted to Columbia University but is going to take a year off because, well, she’s having a heck of a lot of fun climbing and traveling.
“It’s my passion, I guess,” she told me in an e-mail from a hotel room somewhere Friday. “The more I climb and challenge myself, the more I enjoy it. Being out in nature and challenging myself on aesthetic rock lines inspires me, and through both climbing outside and in competition, I feel the most satisfying, unparalleled feeling of accomplishment when I achieve my goals.”
Below is some video of Sasha climbing at the world championships, and after the jump is more from her and her mom about how she got into this crazy, dangerous, exhilarating sport:
Sasha first started climbing at age 6 at her brother’s 8th birthday party. “She scampered up the wall like a little bug while the boys had a hard time muscling up halfway,” her mother, Andrea DiGiulian, said. “She next went climbing with her Indian Princess Group, which Senator [Mark] Warner organized at the same climbing gym. Again, she climbed to the top with no effort at all.”
Next she joined a junior climbing team, and one day the gym was closed for a competition. “We didn’t know that there were such events,” Andrea DiGiulian said, “and asked if Sasha could compete. It was a regional qualification competition for USA [Climbing] Youth Nationals. They let her compete, but said that she couldn’t go on to nationals because she hadn’t qualified by attending competitions throughout the season. At 8 years of age, Sasha won the 11 and under competition . . . and a competitor was born.”
Most rock-climbing competitions are held on artificial walls so that none of the competitors have the advantage of having seen or climbed the routes before, Sasha explained. Her mother said that “with attention to detail, lead climbing is a very safe sport, even though you climb hundreds of meters up a cliff. The rocks are bolted, and you clip your rope as you ascend.”
As Sasha’s success in tournaments grew, she began working with widely respected climbing coach Vadim Vinokur in New York. Vinokur told Derrick Perkins of the Alexandria Times, who first reported this story, that Sasha was “definitely driven. She listened very intently and really did what I asked her to do. A lot of times when you work with kids, you tell them what they should be trying to do and then they do what they want to do anyway.”
Sasha was already the U.S. and Pan American champion when she entered the world championships in Italy. First, she won the silver medal in bouldering, at which she was fairly inexperienced. Then contests in lead climbing, speed climbing and duel competition allowed her to pile up enough points for the overall world championship.
Andrea DiGiulian said it was a pretty cool moment when they did the whole podium-medal-raise-the-flag-national-anthem ceremony. “Seeing her on the top of the podium at that moment,” Andrea DiGiulian said, “is something I will never forget. It really brings life into perspective when you see your child achieve something so great.”
Sasha still loves it and points out that climbing is being considered as an Olympic sport in 2020. Considering some of the other “sports” already in the Olympics (not naming any names, curling), I’d have to say that climbing up the side of a cliff is totally worthy. “If so, I would love to compete,” Sasha said. “Twenty-seven isn’t too old.”
Alexandria’s world champion added, “Climbing is something I see myself doing for the rest of my life. I certainly don’t see myself competing all my life; however, the beauty of climbing is that it doesn’t have to be competitive — you can climb as just a hobby or to stay fit.”