At just 17, Ashima Shiraishi is climbing’s fastest-rising star

“I never really questioned being weaker than the guys,” says Ashima Shiraishi, the five-foot-one, 16-year-old New Yorker who has often been called ‘the world’s most talented rock climber.’ “I always thought I had the same strength, and knew I was capable of showing what was possible.”

 The blunt-fringed teenager is speeding through the neon-lit streets of Tokyo in the back of a car. It’s late March, the sun is setting in Japan and less than a week from now Shiraishi turns 17. Her quiet, frank conversational style is interrupted by the odd yawn. It’s been a long day spent spidering up sheer cliff faces in a secluded riverside climbing spot just outside the city.

 

Shiraishi has won countless international competitions in both bouldering — climbing at low heights with no safety equipment — and sport climbing, which involves ropes, harnesses and anchors fixed to the rock. At 14, she scaled a natural rock formation at a level of difficulty that no other woman had completed at the time, at an age that no one, male or female, had matched.

But today was all about easier training climbs, as she’s resting a shoulder that popped out of place while training for the USA Bouldering Nationals in February, tearing the cartilage that supports the joint. She competed in the event a few days afterwards, and still came second, although the injury worsened.

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