The first thing Ashima Shiraishi ever climbed was a very large boulder protruding from the southern end of Central Park. Now, Central Park is her playground.
For Shiraishi, who just turned 9 last week, Rat Rock is way better than the monkey bars.
She started rock climbing when she was 6 and, and now she scurries her way up just about anything, outside or inside.
In either setting, she has a ritual - shoes on, hair slicked back, tied up and sealed with her good luck charm. And up she goes, while other climbers gaze on.
"It's a level at which I'm not sure I'll ever attain," one climber said.
"I think more than fearless, she's a natural, which is surely an asset," another said.
She is skilled at both bouldering and technical rock climbing, and in February, Shiraishi took first in the nation for the 11 and under division.
And she is sponsored, so most of her gear is free. Not bad for a 9-year-old who thinks of this as playtime.
Her father and aunt coach her from below. Ashima says her entire family is afraid of heights, but not her. And up is where she's going.
"I like it because I really like the view," she said. "It's really good."
And she has a long future ahead of her.
For more on beginning rock climbing, the Manhattan Plaza Health Club is located at 482 W. 43rd Street in Manhattan. For info, call 212-563-7001 or visit MPHC.com.