How Sasha DiGiulian Is Redefining Rock Climbing For Women

Meet The 22-Year-Old Woman Who's Redefining A Male-Dominated Sport

At just 22 years old and 5'2" tall, Sasha DiGiulian is redefining the sport of female rock climbing. The reigning women's world rock climbing champion travels the globe to conquer rock formations that have previously only been attempted by men. In the above "Who Am I" video for #OWNSHOW, she explains her drive and the advantages that women have in this male-dominated sport.

Growing up in Virginia, DiGiulian found her love for climbing when she began scaling walls at just 6 years old. "People thrive the best when they're having fun and enjoying what they're doing in that moment. And for me, that's climbing," she says. "I really love finding that flow and the connection with the motion, that I'm moving up the wall and really engaging all of my senses."

It's the challenge, she says, that motivates her. "What's really unique to me about climbing is you're essentially solving a puzzle piece as you go up," DiGiulian says. "And they're going to be ... many different variations of how to solve that puzzle."

At 18 years old, she became the first American woman to scale the rock formation known as Pure Imagination in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky, considered one of the most difficult climbs in the U.S. "The fact that I may be climbing a line that has only been done by men before may mean that their sequences were much different than mine because I do have a different body type, but solving those different ways that I can use my flexibility to my advantage, or my smaller fingers to my advantage, is inspiring to me about the nature of the sport," DiGiulian says. "And I think that for the future of women in climbing, what's really important is for women to get out there and to try what only men have done before."

Part of the thrill, DiGiulian explains, is being the first to forge a new path (known as a "first ascent" in rock climbing). "To be honest, doing my first first ascent was sweeter than winning the world championships," she says. "There's a lot of, 'Am I capable of doing this? Is anyone capable of doing this?' And I think a lot of what comes down to doing first ascents is realizing that you are capable of setting your own limitations."

Though she's a thrill-seeker at heart, DiGiulian explains that her ability to take on 80-foot drops without fear comes from the unique relationship she has with her climbing partner. "You're literally entrusting yourselves into each other's hands each time that you climb," she says. "You really establish a deep connection with that person that goes beyond trusting each other. You find that your rhythm of energy and optimism has to be in tune with each other's because you have to keep each other entertained, but also excited and motivated. What you form with your climbing partner is a really deep friendship, which is really sacred to me."

"Who Am I" is an web series that delves into the universal idea of self-identity and what it means to look within oneself for insight to carry through one's daily life.

Before You Go

Wilma Rudolph, Sprinter, 1956 & 1960 Olympic Games

In the 1960s, Rudolph was considered "the fastest woman in the world" -- a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that she spent most of her childhood in leg braces. Rudolph suffered from polio as a child, and was fitted for leg braces after she lost the use of her left leg at age six. After years of treatment and determination, the braces came off -- and her sporting career began.

During the 1960 Summer Olympics, Rudolph won three gold medals in track and field.

"I don't know why I run so fast," she told ESPN during her heyday. "I just run."

Nadia Comăneci, Gymnast, 1976 & 1980 Olympic Games

The Romanian gymnast won three gold medals at the 1976 Games. She was the first female gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastics event for her routine on the uneven bars.

"You have to have a lot of passion for what you do," she told CNN in 2012. "To be able to work hard and to have a lot of motivation because you're going to go to places that you're never going to believe."

Alice Coachman, High Jumper, 1948 Olympic Games

Coachman, a high jumper who grew up in the segregated South, was the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948.

Coachman's father didn't approve of her initial training -- which involved practicing on a homemade high jump.

"He said, 'sit on the porch and act like a lady,'" Coachman told NBC in a 2012 interview. "But I didn't do that."

Fanny Blankers-Koen, Sprinter And Hurdler, 1948 Olympic Games

The Dutch athletics star won four gold medals in 1948. At the time, she was a 30-year-old mother of two, and was criticized for competing in the Games.

“I got very many bad letters, people writing that I must stay home with my children and that I should not be allowed to run on a track with -- how do you say it? -- short trousers,” Blankers-Koen told The New York Times in 1982. “One newspaperman wrote that I was too old to run, that I should stay at home and take care of my children. When I got to London, I pointed my finger at him and I said: ‘I show you.’”

Fanny Durack, Swimmer, 1912 Olympic Games

Durack (left), an Australian swimmer, won gold in the 100m freestyle at the 1912 Olympics.

Between 1910 and 1918 Durack was considered the world's greatest female swimmer of all distances between sprints and the mile marathon.

Helen Wills, Tennis Player, 1924 Olympic Games

Wills, an American tennis player, took home gold medals in women's doubles and singles at the 1924 Paris Olympics.

Wills was largely considered "the first American-born woman to achieve international celebrity as an athlete."

Connie Carpenter-Phinney, Speed Skater And Cyclist, 1972 & 1984 Olympic Games

Carpenter, the first woman to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, competed as a skater in the 1972 Games and won the gold medal in the cycling road race at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

"For me, it was everything, because I wanted to win the Olympics so badly," Carpenter-Phinney said of her win in a post-race interview. "That was the crowning glory of a long career, and it gave me the chance to retire on top."

Micheline Ostermeyer, Shot Putter And Discus-Thrower, 1948 Olympic Games
The French athlete and concert pianist competed in the 1948 Olympics, where she won gold medals in shot put and discus throw, and a bronze medal in the high jump. Ostermeyer had only picked up a discus for the first time a few weeks before winning the gold medal.
Mary Lou Retton, Gymnast, 1984 Olympic Games

Retton, an American, was the first female gymnast not from Eastern Europe to win a gold medal in the Gymnastic Individual All-around competition. She won five medals total in the 1984 Games.

As a child, not realizing that competitive gymnastics even existed, Retton's ambition was to become "the finest cheerleader in the world."

"She always knew what she wanted to do," coach Bela Karolyi said in the documentary "Bud Greenspan Remembers: The 1984 L.A. Olympics." "She always had very set goals. And she was following her goals."

Popular in the Community