Wonder Women: Ashima Shiraishi

If you’ve bought a CLIF BAR recently, you may have noticed that the iconic brand has released limited packaging featuring six world-class female athletes. One of those athletes is Ashima Shiraishi, a remarkable 19-year-old Japanese American rock climber who many refer to as the future of the sport.

For those unfamiliar with the different varieties of rock climbing, the primary difference between sport climbing and bouldering is that the former involves ropes and safety harnesses while the latter only requires climbing shoes, chalk and crash pads to soften potential falls. Regardless of the presence of gear, both involve full-body awareness and an immense amount of strength, agility and mental prowess. Rock climbing may be one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports that one could practice — and Shiraishi is an absolute beast with or without climbing gear.

She started climbing recreationally at just 6 years old on Central Park’s Rat Rock. Next thing she knew, at 10 years old, she became the youngest person to boulder a V13. A year later, she became the youngest to scale a 5.14c; climbs at this rating typically require years of experience and training. Yet, she didn’t stop there. In 2016, Shiraishi became both the first woman and the youngest person to send a grade V15 boulder when she climbed Horizon at the age of 14. For reference, the world’s most difficult boulders currently hold a V16 or V17 rating. Needless to say, Shiraishi’s ability to conquer complex rock walls shows experience and strength way beyond her years.

Considering that rock climbing was only recently added as a Summer Olympics event, it’s even more impressive that the 19-year-old climber is already a pioneer and respected legend in this young sport. While an immense pressure to continue pushing the limits could feel like a burden to some, Shiraishi seems to take these expectations in stride, and her enthusiasm to continue to raise the bar is nothing short of inspiring.

When watching her climb, the first thing you may notice is that her 5-foot-1-inch frame offers a relatively limited wingspan. Yet, she never fails to creatively maneuver herself to find the best leverage. This skill speaks to her remarkable vision when charting her routes, and her execution can be best described as a mesmerizing act of grace and athleticism. She handles crimp holds with deftness, she swings with purpose and sometimes it looks like she defies gravity when she launches herself across the wall.

Shiraishi approaches her sport with an admirable amount of fearlessness that not many people display when they’re hanging precariously on a ledge 15 feet off the ground. Yet, even more impressive is her ability to most literally fall and pick herself back up again. The visual of her standing up and sporting a wide grin demonstrates her resilience, her love for the sport and her willingness to constantly challenge herself. Now, with over a decade of experience behind her and plenty more difficult climbs to send, there is no doubt that Shiraishi will continue to take this sport to new heights.

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