PEOPLEBlue Ridge All-Stars: Mountain Sports Heroes at the Top of Their Game

Blue Ridge All-Stars: Mountain Sports Heroes at the Top of Their Game

photocreditJeffZimmerman_F copySASHA DiGIULIAN: Growing up on rock
It was only a matter of time before climbing’s friendly kid sister, Sasha DiGiulian, started beating the grownups. DiGiulian has been scaling walls since she was 7—first climbing at a birthday party at Sport Rock II gym in her hometown of Alexandria, Va. Since her early teens she has been winning international comps—mixing a hearty regimen of both sport climbing and bouldering. Now 17, DiGiulian is a member of the U.S. National Team. Last year she was the top American in her category at the World Youth Climbing Championships in France, and she finished third at the Gravity Brawl pro bouldering comp. Regionally, she was the big surprise at Hound Ears—part of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series in Boone, N.C.—where she unexpectedly won the women’s open category among bouldering elite.

“Sasha has always been a tenacious competitor,” says Triple Crown Director Jim Horton. “It’s been amazing to see her progress from the junior division to crushing the women’s open. With her ever-present smile she seems to be endlessly excited. It’s nice to see a young climber maintain a good attitude while stepping on the collective necks of her peers.”

AnneLundbladfarrightcrop_F copyANNE LUNDBLAD: Running for more than glory
Anne Lundblad has an unprecedented ultrarunning race record: 10-time National Champion, World Cup 100K Silver Medalist, and course records at the epic Mt. Mitchell Challenge and Promise Land 50K. But this past year instead of padding her resume, Lundblad used her tireless legs for new pursuits. Last summer she teamed up with two fellow long-distance runners, Jenny Anderson and Rebekah Trittipoe, to set a new speed record for the South Beyond 6,000—which consists of summiting the 40 southern Appalachian peaks above 6,000 feet. The trio’s 260-mile trek traversed rugged mountains through thick, often trail-less, forests and persistent rain in just seven days.

“I wanted to challenge myself without feeling competitive,” says Lundblad. “Finishing a multi-day adventure takes a different kind of motivation, because you don’t get the glory of winning a race.”

When Lundblad did feel like racing she tried a new format. In October she traveled to Colorado and won the 24 Hours of Boulder—a race that features running as many seven-mile laps as possible in 24 straight hours. Lundblad’s 121 miles gave her a landslide victory against the second place runner, who barely broke 100 miles, and earned her a spot on the national 24-hour team. Despite the success, Lundblad admittedly struggled on the monotonous loop course. At one point she called her husband, fellow elite ultrarunner Mark Lundblad, who convinced her to continue.

“I thought it would be meditative, but after a while it just became redundant,” Lundblad explains. “I wasn’t having fun, but I decided to finish what I started.”

Next year Ann and Mark, who won last year’s Great Eastern Endurance Run 50K, will focus on more freewheeling running adventures, including a possible joint journey across the Smoky Mountains.

“I’ve achieved what I want competitively,” Anne adds. “Now I want to use running to feed other parts of my spirit.”

holcombe2_FIX copyANDREW HOLCOMBE: Recapturing the green
Asheville paddling icon Andrew Holcombe recaptured his crown at the infamous Green River Narrows Race last fall. In doing so, the 2007 race winner set a new course record at the notorious boater brawl in western North Carolina. The race is one of the most extreme river challenges in the country with huge drops and fast turns on rapids like Gorilla and Go Left or Die. Holcombe barreled through the tumultuous class V stretch in four minutes and 18 seconds. In addition to winning the open category he also took the Short Boat Division (4:43) and the Ironman—a combo of short and long boat categories (9:01).

Holcombe attributes his renewed success to better conditioning, including cross-training upper body workouts out of the water.

“In the past you could just be a decent kayaker and concentrate on good lines,” he says. “But in the last five years that’s changed. Now you need to be able to maneuver yourself in the water. This year everything fell into place—I had a great run and felt really strong.”

The win came weeks after Holcombe, who is the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s head paddling instructor, also set a course record at the Lord of the Fork race on the Russell Fork in Eastern Kentucky. The former U.S. Freestyle Team member will continue to focus on downriver races this year.

“I’ve floated through different areas of competitive kayaking, but I am really enjoying the extreme races,” he says. “I’ll be back to defend my titles.”

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