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Sasha DiGiulian, Brette Harrington and Margo Hayes inspired my climbing

Three of the best rock climbers that have inspired and influenced my climbing journey

As climbing steps further into the mainstream of the sports world, professional climbers are making themselves more well-known and sometimes even turn into household names. This is partly due to the high media coverage that the sport of climbing has received, thanks in part to award-winning films like Free Solo and Dawn Wall. However, it seems that still more male climbers make the headlines than female climbers.

As a male climber myself, there were always male climbing role models accessible to me. But it was often the professional female climbers that made the biggest impact on me as a climber and are a big part of my motivation and love for climbing today. Here are some of those climbers that have inspired my climbing.

Sasha DiGiulian

It is inevitable that as one gets more invested in climbing, they start watching lots of climbing videos and films. This was of course the case for me, as I dove headfirst into a plethora of climbing films. Sasha DiGiulian was the first professional female climber that I was exposed to, and she immediately made an impact on me. In a sport saturated with burly, ripped men screaming their way up the wall, it was astounding to watch a climber like Sasha climb a wall with much strength of course, but more importantly with such grace and flow. I remember watching the Adidas film of Sasha’s first ascent of Pure Imagination making her the first woman to climb 9a (5.14d), and I was in awe. What really stood out to me was her pure determination and willpower as she chased climbing history. All this, while remaining joyful and fun-spirited doing the sport she loves.

I was fortunate enough to meet DiGiulian when she visited a climbing gym in Toronto. She was very friendly and asked if anyone had a lead rope she could borrow. I lent her mine and hoped that I would get to watch her send some of the hardest routes in the gym. She did not disappoint. I watched her warm up on a climb that had been my project for more than two weeks. The flow in which she moved on the wall almost gave the illusion that she was floating up it. I studied her movements and the way she did each move of the climb. A week or so later, I sent the route myself. I owe a lot of credit to watching the movements Sasha made on the climb and the inspiration and determination she gave me to finish the route as she did on Pure Imagination. I still remember that day at the gym like it was yesterday.

DiGiulian is a highly active member of the climbing community, doing talks around the world, and is also very active in women’s empowerment in climbing and sport in general. She paved the way for a new generation of female climbers pushing harder and harder grades in climbing and is an inspiration to so many climbers.

Brette Harrington

When thinking about big names in climbing, Brette Harrington is not often at the top of everyone’s list. But make no mistake, Harrington is a world-class climber that deserves recognition in the sport. The first time I was introduced to Harrington was her feature film in Reel Rock 11. The film titled ‘Brette’ was a documentary following Harrington through her climbing journey in her home of Squamish, BC, then to the big walls of Yosemite, and finally to a solo trip in Patagonia.

When I watched the film, I really liked her climbing style, she climbs hard and has great technique. Although, what I noticed just as prominently, was her infectious personality and love for the outdoors and climbing. She exhibits the energy of a free spirit, one that truly loves what she does and soaks up every minute of happiness from the outdoors. In her feature in Reel Rock, Brette goes on a solo trip to Patagonia, Argentina. While there, she completed the first free solo ascent of Chiaro De Luna, a 2,500-foot 5.10d route. Her independent and adventurous spirit inspired me to further discover those qualities within myself. The way she speaks of her love for climbing and adventuring reminded me that sometimes instead of trying to climb the hardest grade possible and push ourselves to the limit, there is value in not pushing too hard and enjoying the love of climbing for the experience itself and not the goal.

Brette Harrington has had a great impact on my climbing and my mentality around the sport and outdoor adventures in general. She is a trailblazer in rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering. I am excited to see how she continues to impact the climbing community.

Margo Hayes

In the discussion of professional female climbers pushing sport climbing grades to the limits, Margo Hayes is at the top of the list. Margo is a 23-year-old professional climber from the United States. She has been climbing and competing since 2008. Hayes quickly climbed up the ranks to become one of the world’s best competition climbers, claiming multiple podiums in youth and adult world championships. However, it is her outdoor route accomplishments that have put the climbing world on notice. In 2017, Margo Hayes became the first female ever to climb 9a+ and break the 5.15a barrier. She did so on the famous route in Spain, La Rambla, later that year climbing another 5.15a Biographie and doing a third of that grade, Papichulo in 2019.

Hayes may not be considered the best female climber in the world, she has not won a climbing championship since 2017 in the youth championships, and other women have climbed 5.15a and higher since she first broke the barrier. But in my eyes, Margo still sits at the top of the list. Hayes was featured in Reel Rock 12 with a film documenting Margo’s journey to sending La Rambla and Biographie. The film illustrates her unstoppable force of will and determination to completing her goals. Hayes presents as a joyful, funny, and genuine person, but it is clear to see that she has a fire of motivation that is fuelled by the doubt of others, which has only helped her prove others wrong and shatter barriers.

The way Margo sets and tackles her goals head-on, not letting anything stand in her way, is truly inspiring and makes me want to drop everything and head straight to the gym or the crag to tackle my next project. When I finished watching Margo’s Reel Rock film ‘Break on Through’, not only did I have a huge smile on my face, but I had the same feeling I got when I first started watching professional climbing films. The feeling that I wanted to be a part of the sport, the culture, and the world of climbing. This type of inspiration is not common to find, but I know she will continue to inspire me and the generation of young climbers to come.

These are just a few of the amazing climbers that have inspired me on my own climbing journey. There are so many amazing athletes that are pushing and breaking through barriers. I hope that they inspire not only the young generation of girls to pursue their athletic dreams, but also inspire men and boys, who see powerful women in sport as role models and standards of success to strive towards.