What's Her Secret: Sasha DiGiulian
The champion rock climber talks staying fit, focused, and strong––both physically and mentally.
She's a Red Bull-sponsored rock climber who in 2011 was the sport's Female Overall World Champion, full-time university student and all around fierce young lady. We chatted with Sasha DiGiulian about how she stays fit, focused and strong––both physically and mentally.
How did you first discover the sport of climbing? "I started climbing after my brother's birthday party at the local climbing gym, in 1998. I was six. I really liked it and the employees running the party told me that I could join the junior team program and come climb with the other kids in the area. The junior team met every Saturday morning, so I started frequenting the gym about once a week. One Saturday morning when I was seven, I walked into a local gym and they were having a youth regional championship. So I kind of stumbled upon the competition scene but the organizers let me compete, even though I hadn't done any of the other qualifying rounds with the understanding that I couldn't go on to the next round if I did well. I won my category then, which was eleven and under, and the next year I started competing. That's also when I realized that my hobby is also a sport, which was pretty cool. At the time I was doing figure skating, swim team, soccer, ballet, and as my interest in climbing increased I kind of stopped participating in the other sports."
What do you love about it now? "The simple things. One, climbing's been my passport to see the world from a really unique lens. I love to travel. Now, I've been to 32 different countries and you see it from a really unique lens––it's not necessarily the tourist agenda when I arrive in new places, I'm climbing with people actually from the country and seeing cliff sides and wide open landscapes, rather than the hustle and bustle. I also really love the fact that when I'm climbing, everything else kind of fades away. You're really just existing in the motion of what you're doing. So it's a great escape."
Sounds like it! So, what do you do to stay in shape? "I climb five days a week for at least three hours, and that's my basic workout. I also cross train. Four days a week I'll do cardio for an hour and I also do complex training, which includes strength to body weight ratio exercises like pullups, pushups and ab workouts."
I imagine you have to be really strong and have a lot of stamina to excel as a climber. "It's strength, but it's also a lot of mental perseverance and technique. So that's where climbing in general is a great, all-over workout, but it also takes practicing technique in being able to figure out the sequences. It's problem solving. You have a bunch of different puzzle pieces to put together, and when you put them together you have the sequence. You know how to do it, and then physically you have to be able to do it."
Has the mental strength you've cultivated in climbing translated into other areas of your life? "Definitely. I'm such an advocate for [using] sports as a tool for fostering academics, helping fight obesity and overall health because I think sports do a wide variety of beneficial things. Through climbing, I've learned a sense of determination and goal-setting, and I've always had a passion that's helped direct the way I live my life, which is probably the thing I'm most thankful for; climbing helps me see. You also have to figure out how to be independent while traveling, and when you're strictly climbing, having the patience to see that there is another option to do something, which is kind of applicable to everyday life as well."
Since you're so active, what's your diet like? "I tend to eat quite nutritious foods. I like foods that make me feel like I'm treating my body well. I also have a sweet tooth but I typically like well-made sweets, such as cookies by my grandma. I think that as long as you're being active and feeding your body appropriately you can eat a lot because you're being active, but preferably nutritious things. Also, to sustain myself, I often make smoothies with my Blendtec and I also make my own energy bars, which I guess is something relatively unique and easy. Then I know exactly what ingredients I'm feeding my body, such as nuts and oats and fruit and chia seeds. I like food that makes me feel optimal, and thinking of the body as a race car. What type of fuel do you put in the best car to get the best performance? You put in the best fuel. I think the same goes for your body and performance, you want to fuel it with the best nutrition so that it can perform optimally."
In addition to your climbing career, you're also a full-time student at Columbia University. How do you stay focused during exam time and competition, when there's so much pressure to perform? "Making lists really helps me, if I write down everything that I have to do. I think also, when you have a list, it can sometimes seem a little overwhelming with where to start, but I've found when it comes to studying for a test or accomplishing homework assignments, if you just start somewhere then you're better off than just looking at the list and stressing out over it. Columbia's campus is such high stress and sometimes you feel that people are talking more about what they have to do than actually doing it. And I think that's applicable with school life, with climbing, with everyday life. You can kind of complain about the things that you have to do or you can jump right in and do them."