Andrea DiGiulian had an early inkling her daughter, Sasha, was destined for a successful career in competitive climbing before she could move around upright.
As a baby she would always crawl out of her crib, Andrea recalled. I would find her at the top of it. I had to take her out before she could walk because I was afraid she would fall out.
The teenage climbing prodigy recently won a gold medal as the overall female performer at the 2011 International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championships in Arco, Italy. She counts it as her proudest and most noteworthy achievement thus far in competition, which is saying a lot considering the Alexandria natives prowess.
Though Andrea may have caught an early glimpse of her daughters raw talent as a baby, Sasha didnt recognize the sports pull until years later. At a birthday party for her older brother, held in a local climbing gym, Sasha scampered up higher and with more ease than any other partygoer.
The 7-year-old was hooked.
At the time Sasha was figure skating and playing soccer, Andrea recalled, but she insisted on entering the world of competitive climbing. Regional competitions gave way to national tournaments under the tutelage of Claudiu Vidulescu, now the United States National Team coach.
Eventually Sasha made her way to Vadim Vinokurs climbing school in New Jersey. The seven-time U.S. Nationals winner and World Cup finalist noticed her talent immediately.
She really, really wanted to improve, Vinokur said. [She 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.
Her success Sasha is the current national and pan American champion in lead climbing among her slew of other titles and achievements are due to her dedication, Vinokur said. Not only does Sasha train and compete without a coach, she comes from a country not known for competitive climbing.
Its really important to have good people around you, good climbers to push you and challenge you, he said. It really goes to show you a lot about Sasha, her internal motivation and drive. She doesnt need to be around other strong climbers to succeed.
Sasha credits the challenge of the sport, whether indoors or out, and the friends shes made with propelling her forward. Though climbers compete with one another, its really a solo performance.
I isolate everything else out when I am climbing outside and focus on the individual movements of the climb and my own technique and fluidity with the rock, she wrote via email from an exhibition in Austria. Similarly, in competition, the only person you can control is yourself, so in competition I find it is more of a personal battle than a rivalry with other competitors.
A recent graduate of the Potomac School in McLean, Sasha is delaying college for a year to focus on her climbing. Though she earned early acceptance into Columbia University, right now she wants to enjoy competition and travel.
Though she may eventually put the competitive aspect of the sport behind her, Sasha cant imagine life without climbing.
I do not see competitive climbing as a life-long pursuit because it is so physically and mentally draining, but I definitely see climbing as a lifelong passion that wont fade, she said. I can see myself climbing outside and climbing in the gym for pure sport and enjoyment for the rest of my life.