Take the Lead - Sasha DiGiulian Book

Take the Lead – Climbing Into The Mind of Sasha DiGiulian

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Climbing into the Mind of Sasha DiGiulian: Book Review of ‘Take the Lead’

Sasha DiGiulian, a powerhouse in the climbing world, has penned her journey in “Take the Lead,” a gripping memoir that takes you from her first touch of climbing holds to conquering some of the most challenging ascents on the planet. It’s a tale of resilience, determination, and an unwavering pursuit of dreams spanning two decades of her climbing career.

Hailing from Asia, where climbing is primarily considered a leisurely pursuit rather than a lifelong passion or a viable career, I never related to elite athletes. Their feats seemed unattainable, and while I thoroughly enjoyed watching their awe-inspiring ascents and reading their training techniques, putting myself in their shoes remained a distant thought.

However, as I delved into the pages of “Take the Lead”, I felt a surprising connection. I am in no way comparing my small achievements to her monumental feats, but I can totally relate to her drive. The persistent belief: “If I wanted something bad enough and worked hard enough, maybe, I could make any goal a reality,” that she consistently highlights resonated deeply with my own ambitions. 

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Sasha’s Journey

Growing up in the public eye, Sasha started competing nationally at the age of nine and secured her first sponsor at twelve. Her personal struggles are well-known in the climbing community, but what sets her apart is her “multi-dimensional” career and business acumen.

“I said yes to everything,” she writes, recounting a whirlwind of appearances. “Yes, I’ll fly to Germany for an appearance this weekend. Yes, I can be in Italy on Saturday. I even flew to Japan for a televised competition on a climb up the side of a casino. I came in second for that and received eight thousand dollars, which, by climbing competition standards, was good prize money.”

Her understanding of the business behind her passion, and her knack for navigating the intricacies of sponsorships and market dynamics, showcased a wisdom beyond her years. In a world where climbers are often stereotyped as solitary or dirtbaggers, Sasha’s ability to recognize (perhaps create) opportunities worldwide, impressed me. 

Business Acumen

She shares her quest for her father’s approval, a traditional sports enthusiast and businessman, which propelled her to take charge of her finances. Yet, her ability to find purpose and financial backing for her passion is truly inspiring. From funding her education through climbing ventures to establishing her own production company, “Female Focused Adventures,” and a nutritional venture named Send Bars, Sasha epitomizes a career that transcends the conventional boundaries of an athlete.

Injuries and comebacks

Her narrative outshines impatience, a trait Sasha openly acknowledges. “Patience has never been my strong suit,” she admits, especially during five hip reconstruction surgeries amid the pandemic. Her impatient style, coupled with determined grit, fueled a recovery process that was not just faster but better.

Sasha’s year-long recovery, narrated with raw honesty is heart-winning. Persuading doctors to release her within a mere day following her initial surgery showcased a willpower that deepened my admiration for her. It is this intense desire that evidently fuels her feats: three-time World Champion, first American woman to climb 5.14d (9a), FFA of Logical Progression, big climbs of Mora Mora, Magic Mushroom on the north face of Eiger, Trilogy in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and 30+ ascents.

Sasha DiGiulian
PC: Redbull

Sasha DiGiulian has made several impressive ascents since recovering from her hip surgeries. Here are a few notable examples:

Logical Progression (5.13a/8b+): In 2021, DiGiulian returned to El Gigante in Mexico to complete Logical Progression, a 2,800-foot big wall route that she had been attempting before her surgeries. The ascent was particularly significant for DiGiulian as it marked her return to big wall climbing after a challenging period.

Rayu (8c/5.14a): In 2022, DiGiulian led an all-women team to the first ascent of Rayu, a difficult route in the Picos de Europa mountain range in Spain.

These accomplishments were particularly meaningful for DiGiulian as they came shortly after her second hip surgery and the loss of her friend, Nolan Smythe, in a climbing accident while climbing Logical Progression in 2020.

These are just a few examples of DiGiulian’s remarkable achievements since her surgeries. Her dedication and perseverance have made her an inspiration to climbers around the world.

Personal life and struggles

“Take the Lead” weaves through her life, dividing her rock experiences and relationships into well-crafted chapters. Sasha acknowledges the roles of sponsors, photographers, and videographers in her career journey. In fact, in her nuanced approach, she has carefully humanized each character of her life without becoming a victim herself and blaming others.

You will find open discussions about relationships, pivotal boyfriends who played roles in her outdoor triumphs, a supportive mother always standing by her side and affectionate bonds with her brother and grandmother. She dives deeply into her strained relationship with her father, with her insights into what she could have done differently in retrospect. 

In a poignant section, Sasha addresses her struggles with body image and online body shaming. She recounts an incident involving an unnamed person, “Chad,” who photoshopped and shamed her body on social media. Sasha’s strength surfaced in that moment, as she utilized her platform to condemn such bullying. As a woman in a male-dominated sport, I resonated with the importance of standing up against toxic masculinity.

Being in the limelight, Sasha has been confronted. However, her struggles have propelled her towards service, be it climate change advocacy or women-oriented programs. Her memoir is a call to action, a reminder that personal battles can be a catalyst for broader positive change.

Summary

For non-climbers, comprehending the allure of putting one’s body through physical distress to travel to remote locations and climb towering peaks may be challenging. Sasha makes the reading less complex by including a glossary of climbing terms at the beginning and seamlessly explaining new concepts in the narrative. Her writing style, devoid of lofty vocabulary, is engaging, ensuring readers feel her experiences. Unlike climbing magazine features, the book doesn’t include minute details of holds or routes, which hardcore climbers may find lacking. However, the book showcases the more human, rather than technical, side of climbing.

“Take the Lead” isn’t just a recollection of climbing achievements; it’s an odyssey of self-discovery and empowerment. It invites readers to step into Sasha’s climbing shoes, feel the weight of the risks, and understand the mental fortitude required for extraordinary feats. As I traversed the pages, I found myself not just cheering for Sasha’s triumphs but reflecting on my journey, inspired by her invincible spirit.

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