May 15, 2012

LET'S HOPE THIS STORY ENDS WELL:

Tiny Hand Over Hand (JULIE BOSMAN, 5/12/12, NY Times)

Ashima had just begun a two-week climbing expedition this spring at Hueco Tanks, a state park that is a mecca for bouldering enthusiasts, 860 acres of rock masses surrounded by endless desert and sky 30 miles northeast of El Paso.

Three days after she arrived, she stunned the bouldering world by climbing Crown of Aragorn, an exceedingly difficult route that requires climbers to contort their bodies and hang practically upside down by their fingers as they navigate a rock that juts out from the ground at a 45-degree angle.

On the scale of V0 to V16 that governs bouldering, Crown of Aragorn is a V13, a level that only a few female climbers had reached.

None were 10 years old, as she was.

Ashima, a petite girl with pale skin, a toothy smile and a thick fringe of bangs cut in a perfect line across her forehead, is not only the best climber her age in the United States, or maybe anywhere, but her accomplishments have already placed her among the elite in the sport.

In 2008, when she was only 7, she began sending problems -- bouldering lingo for ascending routes -- that some adult climbers could not handle.

On a trip to Hueco in 2010, she climbed a V10 called Power of Silence. The next year, she ascended a V11/12 called Chablanke.

At the American Bouldering Series Youth National Championship in Colorado Springs in March, she easily came in first place, all 4 feet 5 inches and 63 pounds of her.

Before finishing fifth grade, Ashima, who recently turned 11, is redefining what physical tools are required to be an elite climber and showing how a child can hold her own against professional climbers who are adults.

This summer, she will accompany a group of American climbers for an expedition in South Africa, where she will be the only child climber in the bunch.

"She's this adorable little girl who climbs hard and cries when she doesn't send," said Andrew Tower, the editor in chief of Urban Climber magazine. "Her climbing I.Q. is so high, you show her how to do something and she soaks it up really quickly. She understands innately how to move."

It did not take a pro to see that there was something unusual going on at the time Ashima started climbing in 2007, when she was 6.

Her parents, Tsuya and Hisatoshi Shiraishi, had immigrated from Japan in 1978 and settled in a loft in Chelsea. When Ashima, their only child, was 2, they began taking her to Central Park in search of amusement.

One afternoon when Ashima was in kindergarten, they wandered over to Rat Rock, a boulder 15 feet high and 40 feet wide at the south end of the park that is a favorite spot for amateur climbers.

Ashima joined the other climbers and began to scurry up the rock without help, so focused on her climbing that she begged to stay at Rat Rock through the dinner hour. Finally, when it became so dark that Ashima could not see the rock anymore, they went home.

The Shiraishis were mystified. "We didn't even know that climbing was a sport," her father, Hisatoshi Shiraishi, said later.

But he knew that his little girl was good.
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Posted by at May 15, 2012 5:56 AM
  

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