Sasha Digiulian climbs in the Red River Gorge during her record-breaking week. Photo: Magnus Midtbo

Professional climber and Virginia native Sasha Digiulian has already had one hell of a year. In March, she spent a week establishing first female ascents of the hardest routes in the Red River Gorge, becoming the first American female to onsight a 5.14 route in the process. A couple of weeks later, she won the USA Sport Climbing Nationals in Boulder. This all comes after winning her fourth straight youth Pan Am Climbing Championship last December. Digiulian is pushing the limits of climbing and is arguably the strongest female climber in the country, if not the world. And she’s just graduated from high school. BRO talked with the 18-year-old as she finished up high school and made plans for a big summer and fall.

Your recent trip to the Red was a breakthrough for you, and women climbers in general. What was different about that trip?
SD: I spent spring break in the Red. I hadn’t climbed outside since August, so I’d just been training in the gym at home. I was so excited to be climbing outside that I wasn’t going to let the numbers limit me. Sometimes, you go on a climbing trip and you automatically look for routes in your comfort zone. I’d never been on a 5.14c before, but I decided I was going to put on my shoes and just climb it. I knew I only had a little time because I was on spring break, so I just went for it. Plus, the Red fits my style. The climbing there is fitness oriented without any big reaches. I’m 5’2,” so having to extend for a hold can be difficult.

Was it a dream come true ticking off that 5.14c (Southern Smoke)?
SD: When I was 10, I told myself if I could ever climb a 5.14A, I’d be out of this world happy. I thought that was the ultimate. I don’t know what to expect now. It sounds cheesy but if you believe it, you can do it. Lately, at the gym training, I’ll be tired but able to dig deeper. I think about what I’m training for, and I find the strength somehow. When you can link that mental aspect with the physical, you can really excel.

How important is the mental game in climbing?
SD: Climbing is so mental. There is only so much you can improve physically. But if you can tap into the mental side of the sport, you can do anything. There are so many individual moves in a route, so many distinctive techniques you have to perform. If you can wrap your head around what you have to do, and mentally picture yourself on the wall performing the moves, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. That side of the sport is almost as integral as the physical.