Just Climb Through It by Ashima Shiraishi at TEDxTeen (Full Transcript)

Ashima Shiraishi

This is the full transcript of rock climbing prodigy Ashima Shiraishi’s TEDx Talk titled ‘Just Climb Through It’ at TEDxTeen conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Just climb through it by Ashima Shiraishi at TEDxTeen


Have you ever felt as if you’re overwhelmed by problems? Well, if you feel like you’re surrounded by negativity and frustration, and you have knots in your stomach, and you have a weight on your shoulders, like I’m feeling right now, sometimes, you might feel like you’re trapped, or like you’re facing a wall. It’s a very physical experience, and the problems that I attempt to conquer are just that, very physical.

What do you think when you hear rock-climber? Probably someone like this, a strong man who is muscular with shaggy hair? And when people find out that I climb, they’re surprised, because I’m so small. And they think, “You climb?” To answer that, it’s “Yes. I do climb.” And I’ve been doing it for a little while now, about 7 years, so more than half of my life.

Well, this all began in the heart of New York City, Central Park. This guy name Yuki, he just told me all the basics of climbing. He told me that all you needed was a pair of climbing shoes and a chalk bag to have fun. He also told me that the pathway to get on top of the boulder is called a problem, and there’s also a grading system in climbing. So there’s a V on the left side and a number on the right side, it’s pretty simple. And if the number is lower, it’s easier, so for example, V0 is almost like a ladder, while a V16 is nearly impossible.

One of my favourite parts about climbing is that no matter what your size, if you’re small, big, light, or heavy the problem is never going to change, but you can approach the problem differently. Well, back then, I was smaller than any of the other climbers around, so I had to master the skill of hand and foot placement. And I like to think of it as a puzzle, and I love solving puzzles. What began as a hobby, soon, allowed me to travel around the world.

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Well, do you know where this is? Any guesses? No? OK. Well, this is New York actually. I was pretty small back then. And I’ve also traveled to places like Spain. But my most recent trip was to South Africa. And my goal there was to raise the level of female climbing by climbing the difficulty of grade V14. And only one other woman had accomplished this grade, and only a handful of men.

On the first day I tried this problem, Golden Shadow, I decided to break it into pieces, and by breaking it into sections, I would be able to test myself, and see if this is possible for me. And even though I surprised myself by being able to climb all the sections, I was left with the impossible task of piecing it all together, and doing it in one go.

Well, during the next few days, I climbed from sun up till sundown or even afterwards, with a headlamp. And I climbed until my hands were bloody, and my eyes were full of tears. I was really desperate for this. And stubborn. I would fall, and fall, and fall, but I’d always just hop back on to my feet and think to myself, was it my hands, or feet or shall I reposition my body?

And eventually, my dad suggested that I should find a new project because he thought that this one was just out of my reach. But I knew that I had to try at least one more time, so I said, “Why not? Just give it one more go.” So I put my shoes back on and chalked up my hands. And it just happened. I don’t know how. I just got on the wall, and I seemed to just execute. I was able to realize my dream; and I was standing on top of a boulder.

And then I realized that 99% of climbing is falling, and what you might consider failure. And that means I just fall on my butt over, and over, and over again. And that success, that’s only 1%. It’s so worth it. At the end, it’s so worth it. I agree with what Bill Gates said, “Success is a lousy teacher.” This also ties into my daily life. Well I’ve been having trouble doing homework because I have a pretty hectic schedule. So I wake up at 6 a.m. in the morning, go to school, and then I train at the climbing gym for about 4 hours, and then I’m back home when it’s about 10.30. And then I start doing homework. For me, homework is also my V14. That’s just how much I struggle with it.

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It’s also really easy to get distracted when your phone is just a pocket away. And on social media like Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, people only post things that are happy, like eating food, which is what I post a lot. Yeah. Or just like traveling. And this is how people see just me having fun and me climbing. But in reality, this is sort of what happens. Yeah, I hate it so much.

But from climbing, I’ve learned that my homework is a part of the 99% to success. And I’ve learned that nothing worth doing is going to be easy, but the effort that you put into it, is going to pay off at the end. And I think that it’s important to endure and climb through your problems because failure is a huge part of success. You don’t have to be a rock climber to understand this, but I like to think that everyone in this room is a climber. Think about it. What’s your V14? Because after all, we are all climbers at heart.

Thank you.