Ilona Barash

Ilona Barash - Athleta 2013 Sponsored AthleteILONA BARASH is a physician, climber, and runner living in San Diego, California whose life has been a balancing act between athletics and academics. She climbed El Capitan in Yosemite and did first ascents of alpine climbs north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska while earning a PhD in muscle physiology, enjoyed unguided ascents of 6,000 meter peaks in South America and ran multiple marathons including Boston during medical school and residency, and studied for her Emergency Medicine Board Examinations while living out of her van on a year-long climbing road trip. In August 2013, she will be completing a Fellowship in Primary Care Sports Medicine.

Ilona grew up near Seattle, and was blessed with wonderful parents who allowed her to complete her first backpacking trip while still in diapers. They pushed her to excel academically, but did not mind that she missed all of her academic graduation ceremonies due to outdoor adventures. She started full time as a college student at the University of Washington when she was 14 years old after skipping high school. There, she fell in with a group of climbers and backcountry skiers and hasn’t looked back since.

She spent much of her medical and graduate school years working hard, but also playing hard – studying for tests from her sleeping bag in Joshua Tree, and driving long hours to Yosemite or the High Sierra to make the most of a weekend, often returning physically exhausted but emotionally charged for the week ahead. During residency in Emergency Medicine, she became acutely aware of the importance of physical activity to stay sane and healthy and keep her brain sharp. Finally, as her residency ended, her fantasies of stealing a year from her high-pressure academic career path became a reality as she and her husband put their belongings in storage and moved into a van for one fabulous year of climbing adventures.

She strongly believes that physical fitness and challenge goes hand in hand with mental proficiency, and excellence in one area breeds excellence in the other. She hopes to spread this gospel throughout her medical and athletic career, serving as a role model for patients, coworkers and athletes while also providing medical care when needed to keep people, especially women, on the go. After completing her Sports Medicine Fellowship, she hopes to have a sports medicine clinic where she can provide individualized care to athletes, in addition to acute care for everyone in the Emergency Department.




  • Running: 6 marathons, including Boston 2011; Multiple 5k-1/2 marathons
  • Lead climber, including traditional single pitch climbs up to 5.12-; Multi-pitch free climbs in Yosemite; Desert towers in Utah; Big wall climbs in Yosemite and Zion National Park
  • Alpine rock climbs in the Sierra Nevada, Wyoming, Canada, and Chile (where she combined her medical and mountain skills in a 28-hour technical rescue of a Chilean climber after a 300 foot fall); First Ascents in Alaska
  • Mountaineering in North America, South America and Africa
  • Backpacking/Trekking including a solo trip on the Pacific Crest Trail from Snoqualmie Pass to Canada; Solo trekking in Nepal; Multiple trips in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges

Academic & Sports Medicine:

  • Current Fellow 2012-13, Primary Care Sports Medicine, University of California, San Diego
  • MD: Board Certified Emergency Medicine Physician, University of California, San Diego
  • PhD: Skeletal muscle physiology, studying why muscles get sore after exercise at the molecular and cellular level
  • Physician for the TriRock Triathlon San Diego, San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon, the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Ultramarathon, and the 4 Deserts Atacama Crossing Ultramarathon in Chile
  • Team Physician for University of California, San Diego


  • Learn as much as she can about sports medicine and physiology during her sports medicine fellowship, so that she can provide excellent care to athletes of all types, both in the clinic, on the field, and in the Emergency Department
  • Climb 2-3 days a week, run 4-6 days per week
  • Try at least one new sport per month
  • Bike a century or two
  • 2013-14: Run an ultramarathon