“I’m so glad I got to climb!” Sasha DiGiulian said with a giant smile on her face, dripping wet in her newly acquired Whitewater Race Series t-shirt. While traveling across the country to promote her upcoming film, most venues greeted her with red carpets instead of climbing walls.

But a few hours earlier, when she’d arrived to her film screening at The Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC, she saw guests scaling the world’s first permanent deep water solo climbing complex. After about 20 minutes of staying dry and giving beta from the ground, the professional climber couldn’t help herself. Why should everyone else get to have all the fun?

Sasha went straight to the hardest wall in the entire Deep Water Solo complex – a 45-foot wall with a rating of about 5.12 – and smiled for the camera as she made the climb to the top look effortless.

“Do I have to jump?” she yelled from the top. In response, the crowd started counting down from five, giving Sasha the push she needed to let go and plunge into the water.

Sasha is one of the best female climbers in the world. She’s achieved over 30 first-female ascents, and she was the first North American woman to climb a 5.14d (9a), which was then one of the hardest sport climbs achieved by a woman. After earning a world championship and multiple national championships, she started tackling Big Wall free climbs all over the world.

For the past four years, she and her team have been working on her film, Here to Climb, which premieres June 18 on Max.

Here to Climb chronicles Sasha’s relationship with climbing: from being introduced to the sport at her brother’s birthday party, to excelling at gym competitions, to failing her first all-female expedition, and to five major surgeries that had the potential to end her career.

“Why I do what I do, that’s a big question,” Sasha said in the film. “I think proving I can achieve a goal, that’s what drives me.”

Through every challenge, Sasha learns that there is purpose beyond the wall, and that joy doesn’t need to come from sending.

Before the film, Sasha answered questions from the guests.

Q: How was your time on the Deep Water Solo wall?
A: I actually had no intention of climbing on the wall today, but you guys all made it look so fun. So I’m so glad you all convinced me to get up there. What an amazing facility first of all — this is an absolutely world class center. I can see many trips in my future returning here for fun. 

Q: You’ve been to a couple of different cities and have a few more stops in the next couple of days for screenings of your film. How’s the experience been so far?
A: It’s been a special moment for me to be able to share this film with you guys. Of course, it will be available for you to watch again if you want on MAX next week. But going to these cities and communities and interacting with everyone’s responses to the film is very heartwarming. We spent over 4 years putting this thing together. I’m just genuinely excited to see everyone’s responses to it.

Q: Coming from Alexandria, Virginia, what got you into climbing? Where did you start?
A: I’m going to answer that question very briefly because I’m excited for you to find out more in the film. But I started climbing when I was six years old, so I’ve been climbing for 25 years now. In this film, you’ll also see some of the trials and tribulations that I’ve gone through in my career, including a potentially career-ending injury that I overcame.

Q: Is there a piece of advice you’d like to share with young climbers just starting out?
A: If you’re just starting out with climbing, I’d say that consistency is key. Climbing is one of those sports that you get better the more that you do it, like most things in life. But if you have three hours to climb in a week, I always like to say it’s better to do one hour three times a week, rather than one time for three hours once a week. The foundation of climbing is really just getting out there and climbing and building that base. If you’re new to climbing, go to a center like this. Getting out to a gym is a great way to start.

Q: Is there anyone in your life who has been your biggest supporter? How have they helped you along the way?
A: I’ve had a lot of incredible women that have come before me in the professional space. They’ve really led the way for me to have the career that I can have today. One of those women is Lynn Hill, who is a big part of this film and someone who has been a part of the past four years of filming, which was a special experience. Also in the film is my mom. She learned how to belay so that she could support me climbing. I come from a family that knew nothing about rock climbing. I started out as a figure skater and then did ballet, and that was kind of the thought for my mom, that I would do that. Then I rook a 180 and did this thing called rock climbing, and she’s been very supportive. I would say that along the myriads of women and men that have been in my life, those are two characters in this film that also for good reason have played significant roles in my life.

Q: Throughout your career, you’ve completed some of the toughest climbs out there, becoming the first North American woman to climb the grade 5.14(d). You also have multiple first ascents under your belt. Is there one climb you can say was the most challenging?
A: I don’t know if I have one climb that I could say was the most challenging, because it always feels like the last climb I did was the most challenging for its own reasons. One that was the most moving for me was actually relatively recent. I completed what was the hardest big wall achieved by a team of women after going through five big, major surgeries. That route was called Rayu in Picos de Europa in Spain, and it was a 5.14b big wall. And the reason it was such a big triumph for me was because it was coming back to a grade and a caliber that I had done before, and I didn’t know if I could ever do that again. And this time leading an expedition of women on the wall.

Q: What do you hope others can take away tonight from watching this film?
A: I hope that in this film you guys see that we all go through obstacles, and obstacles are just opportunities to learn from new challenges. And I hope you guys feel inspired, because when I was young and coming up in climbing, it was the women who came before me, like Lynn, that really inspired me to realize that I could pursue my passion and live out my passion to potentially make it my career. I hope that through this film, even just a fraction of that source of inspiration can inspire some of you. I hope you enjoy it!

Whitewater is proud to host athletes like Sasha DiGiulian and to further its mission of inspiring people to engage with the outdoors.

Visit the calendar for information on more upcoming events at The Whitewater Center in Charlotte, NC.