Sash DiGiulian Interview: Thoughts on Climbing, Career and Having Kids
Sasah DiGuilian is one of the most influential climbers of the day, male or female. After her ascents of hard sport routes at the Red River Gorge and Spain, she shot to the top of the climbing scene. From there she’s taken her passion and talent to all corners of the sport, traveling the world pioneering and establishing first ascents. She recently graduated from Columbia University allowing more time for climbing, work and travel. I’ve always admired how she’s handled her notoriety and continued to put family and friends at the forefront of her life. Ever since being a young professional climber myself, I’ve been curious how other climbers view the intersection of their careers, personal and family lives. Sasha is a huge advocate for women’s rights both inside and outside of sports. She was kind enough to open up about her life in climbing, her views on women in climbing and her thoughts on having a family in the future. I hope you enjoy!
Can you tell me about your start in climbing? Who and what influenced you?
I first started climbing in 1998. My brother had a birthday party at a local climbing gym and I was in love. I don’t know exactly what it was about climbing that so intuitively clicked for me then, but I can admit that a catalyst was that I was better than my brother. We were highly competitive growing up, being just 14 months apart, and he often far exceeded my ability in sports. I was figure skating competitively at the time, as well as active in other sports. I never dreamed of climbing becoming my “profession;” it was something that I enjoyed doing so I did it a lot. My parents were always incredibly supportive; getting me from place A to B, and circling around to the middle of nowhere C… wherever it was that I needed to be for climbing. Though, they never pressed my passion on to me nor pressured me to win or do anything that didn’t come from my heart. I grew up with a poster of Chris Sharma on my wall, and bought magazines in which I read about (You), Lynn Hill, Dave Graham, and competing, I always looked up to Robyn Ebersfield and Angie Eiter.
You recently graduated from Columbia University, with more free time, what does a “typical” year look like for you? Climbing, speaking, etc?
Now that I’ve graduated from Columbia I feel like I can have more time, in general, to just focus on myself in all aspects. I have more time and energy to put forward into training, as well as more liberty to take climbing trips whenever and to wherever I aspire. I have taken on a full-time writing contract as well with Outside Magazine, which gives me a lot of liberty because I can write from anywhere and it is something that I really enjoy doing. I also have become more active with speaking engagements because instead of going to class, I can prepare and travel for these. I suppose a “typical” year for me doesn’t exist, though I can illustrate the gist…
January-March are training focused; primarily in the gym, and traveling for primarily domestic events, with climbing outside used as my “fun” climbing during the off-days from training.
March – May I am focusing on sport climbing outside.
May – September I am broadening my goals to developing new areas, and also climbing more big walls and trad.
September – November: I may circle back to sport, or continue to add another big wall objective to my list. I will also check in with the training program and begin to add more structure to my approach to climbing.
December: My year winds down and I spend more time with family.
You are a very active and influential person for women’s rights in sport and in life, can you tell me what led you to this? And what campaigns are you currently involved in?
After I climbed “Pure Imagination,” I experienced a lot more attention that I ever could have anticipated, and from a more mainstream audience. My voice all of a sudden had a platform to be heard, and I saw it as an opportunity to incorporate my core values into my overall brand personality. I have a lot of opportunity, luck, and privilege in my life and that is because of my family, my community, and circumstance. That’s not to say that I grew up some super rich kid; I was making a living before I was 18 and I insisted on supporting myself, including paying full tuition through my four years at Columbia. Though, I grew up in an incredible network of people that supported and believed in me, and I was never hindered by external factors to strive for my dreams. This is not something that everyone can say – and moreover, very few women in this world can. So, for me it is a way of voicing what I believe in, but also giving back.
What female role models have been influential to you?
I have always looked up to Lynn Hill; she set the standard for climbing in my opinion. She has been one of the climbers that has laid the groundwork for me to now create my own path. Women like you, Katie Brown, Angie Eiter, Robyn Ebersfield, and Emily Harrington, and Josune Beriezartu have all inspired me in different ways, but I also am thankful for what you have done to elevate the female platform in climbing. On a broader context, beyond climbing, women like Billie Jean King, Aimee Mullins, and Lindsay Vonn, to name a few, are some of the athletes that I look up to and who have influenced my own ability to believe in myself. Each new generation of climbers stands on the shoulders of those who came before them. I am very aware of timing, as well as what is to come. I look to the past and the future as influential on my inspiration in climbing. I would say, though, that the ones who influence me the most are the people that I can relate to most.
As a female professional athlete, I’m curious if you envision having a family at some point?
I do very much look forward to having a family. I do not know when, but certainly in my future I would like to. Family and friends are the key to my happiness. At the end of the day, how hard I climb on rock or how well I do in competitions is not going to define my happiness. The love in my life and the people that I can share my journey with, and take part in theirs, are what will stand as the pillars to who I am.
If so, do you see this as something that could simultaneously work with your career and lifestyle?
I see no reason that it wouldn’t. Perhaps I can’t climb 5.14 when I’m 8 months pregnant but you never know – if not me, I’m sure there are women out there who can! Surely my lifestyle will change a lot when I settle down and have a family. This is something that I would hope for, regardless of having children. Now I live at a very fast pace: I travel almost every week if I’m not on a climbing trip for a period of time, and I have little time to invest in a long term relationship because my priorities are where I invest my time and this is not one of them, yet. My mom and my brother, and my close family are, though, and I am cognizant of carving out time to see them, but that is already hard enough. It’s easy to say “I don’t have time” to do X. Though, we always have time for whatever it is that we want to do, it’s a more a matter of whether something is a priority or not. When having a family of my own and a relationship that is long term and sustaining becomes a priority of mine, I will find a way to work it in to my career simultaneously.
Are there any female athletes or families out there that you look to as examples or advice?
I do routinely message Lynn Hill for advice and guidance. She shines a light of wisdom on my own path. I also speak to my mom very often.
As a climbing child prodigy, you have a unique perspective for parents and young children in the sport, any advice for them on a healthy involvement?
Let your kids experience life the way that they want to. If you push them in one certain direction, you will suppress their unique passion. Let them fall and experience what failure feels like, and learn how to stand up taller. But, encourage them to follow up with what it is that they want to be involved in and support them in whatever way that you can to be able to put their best effort forward.
How do you see professional women athletes having families changing since you started climbing?
I think that now more than ever we have the ability to define our own careers in unique ways. Athletes don’t need to be one dimensional and it is easier to expand beyond the pure physical pursuit of a sport. Female athletes can be still involved within their sports in a professional capacity even if they take time to have a family because they have voices that reach audiences interested in their lives and their inspiration. More women are climbing now than ever before and I see more support towards women in general in sports, and more acceptance; though, I think that we are far from the finish line.