Her body assumes a seemingly infinite variety of forms, each of a different utility
Credit Photograph by Pari Dukovic for The New Yorker
The mother and father of Ashima Shiraishi, a fourteen-year-old New Yorker who has been called the most talented rock climber in the world, met in fashion school, in Tokyo, in the early seventies. Hisatoshi Shiraishi, the father, was from the southern island of Shikoku, and Tsuya Otake, the mother, was from Fukushima, where her family had a garment factory. After graduating, they travelled together to Europe and, captivated by the punk scene in London, settled there for a while.
Tsuya recalls that even in the hospital nursery Ashima ceaselessly moved her hands, arms, and legs: “All the time, not stop. I couldn’t believe it. I think she has monkey DNA.” Tsuya has a sardonic sense of humor, and a husky laugh. She and Poppo both struggle with English, despite having lived in New York City for nearly forty years.
Their aspirations for Ashima were lofty and vague. “When Ashima was born, I have an idea for her,” Tsuya said. “She grow up, create things, and make people happy. It came true. Now kids want to be like Ashima.”
Climbing was not originally a part of the plan. They hardly knew that it existed. The real miracle may be that a little girl from the unmountainous island of Manhattan, born to insular, artistic immigrants who had never tied a figure-eight knot, became, by the age of fourteen, possibly the best female rock climber ever—a Gretzky of the granite.
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