Núria Burgada Buron is the mother of not one, but two phenomenal mountain athletes: Kilian Jornet, largely regarded as the world’s best endurance athlete, and Naila Jornet Burgada, a competitive ski-mountaineer.
SisuGirls caught up with Núria to learn more about her unique approach to motherhood, and her tips for raising adventurous children.
8 Lessons to Raise Adventurous Children: Núria Burgada Buron
How does one raise a super mountain athlete? Núria laughs at a suggestion that it begins by being one yourself. She didn’t grow up in the mountains; she was a city girl who grew up near Barcelona. She was sporty, of course, but modestly brushes aside any suggestions that she was a spectacular athlete like her children at their age.
Raising a child who respects nature and loves the outdoors, Núria explains, does not require you to live within stone’s throw of the mountains, nor does it mean spending every weekend and holiday in nature. “It begins with your own love of mountains, which you pass on to your children,” she says.
Núria learned to love the mountains from a young age: Her parents were mountain lovers and the family would travel there on holidays. In high school, she joined a mountain club. Aged 22, she took her love for the mountains to another level: she left the city and moved to the mountains in the Pyrenees.
“I left everything – my work, my studies – everything,” she says. She lived in a small mountain hut with her husband, where the roads were unpaved and covered in snow in winter. “When I decided to live in the mountains, it was because I loved it. I love nature. I think we are a part of nature, and we have to live more at one with nature.”
Moving in the mountains wasn’t about ‘sport’ for Núria, it was simply a way of life. And soon Kilian and Naila were pulled into the fold: the mountains were, quite literally, their playground and nature their friend. Raised thousands of feet above sea level in some of the most incredible mountains in the world, is it any wonder, really, that Kilian and Naila are the people they are?
“Of course” – but it also helps to have someone like Nuria for a mother. While she acknowledges her children’s upbringing, she still thinks city children, like herself, can learn to love and embrace the outdoors.
Here she shares her 8 tips for introducing your child to nature and instilling in them a deep love and respect for Mother Earth.
1. Love nature and your children will love nature.
Much like her own parents loved nature and passed that love onto her, Núria also believes that her own authentic and deep passion for nature was passed onto her children.
“I think the most important thing about my children is that they love nature themselves. I didn’t push it. I think parents don’t have to push it on their children. It cannot be imposed on them; they can’t be made to feel that they have to do one thing or the other.”
“As I love nature; they love nature. Nature was their playground. We played in nature. We didn’t make it competitive; we just played. We walked. We picked flowers. We just existed amongst it.”
“You can’t come to nature with an agenda or a plan... you have to go as the children go, not as you want. Maybe the first day you only go one kilometre and you only pick up rocks… Don’t worry about achieving your plan – there should be no plans. Just go. Because the first thing with children is that they must love it.”
2. Let go.
Núria explains how her children would play in the snow, naked. ”Sometimes people would walk past the house and say to me, ‘Hey, there’s a child playing naked in the snow’, and I would say, ‘No problem madam, it’s my son’ or daughter. They would ask if the children were cold? I would respond: ‘No, if they were cold, they would come home. But if not? Why bring them in? They are having fun’.”
If there’s no harm in it, let go and let them play.
3. Go slowly and play.
“It’s not how often you go to the mountains, it’s how you go to the mountains with your children. It’s not ‘hurry up, go there, see this’. No. You have to go gently. You have to go and open your mind and open the mind of your children. Go slowly.”
She suggests tapping into you child’s imagination and let them cultivate the relationship and shape the experience. “I remember we would go like a train, marking all the trails on our way… or we would pretend we were flying over the trails on motorbikes.”
4. Believe in your children.
“You have to believe they can do it. This is the most important thing. As a mother, you are always so worried about your children, taking care of them, but you have to say no to yourself; you have to trust that they are capable, that they can do it. You have to trust that if they can’t, they will ask you. They are stronger than you think they are, and it is important that they discover it.”
“I think this upbringing was very important to Kilian as an athlete. [Kilian and Naila] are both now as they are because of my deep belief in them and their capabilities.”
“One memory from when they were very young, six and seven, after dinner, I took them outside into the forest without a lamp. And when we were in the middle of the forest I told them to listen to the sounds. After 10 minutes I said, well, now I will go home. Who wants to show me the way? And they did. They led me home. Children are very capable when given the opportunity.”
5. Don’t impose your fears on them.
With a son as wild and untamed as Kilian, I asked if she ever gets scared. Her answer is instantaneous: “Of course I get scared. But I think it’s part of who he is; it’s his life. I have my fears, but they are mine.”
“If I worry too much I just remember my own story: When I was young, my parents were scared about me moving to the mountains on my own, because I was young. It was at a time when young women don’t go to the mountains. When there was no Internet or telephone. And that was important for me. So, similarly, I would never want to stop my children.”
6. Don’t tell your children “no”. Teach them why.
“I’ve never told Kilian no,” Núria explains. And she assures there were times when she very much wanted to. “We lived in a little village, a 10-minute walk to the bus stop and then a 25-kilometre drive to school. Well, sometimes -- well, a lot of times -- Kilian would give his backpack to Naila and he would run or cycle to school instead.”
She goes on. “Later, he had days in the afternoon off. He would travel by bicycle, sometimes with the skis, to the mountains, on his own to climb. When I came home I’d say, Where is Kilian? I’d go in the car trying to find him.”
Soon, she realised she had to do something with him. But she stresses it wasn’t to tell him he ‘couldn’t’.
“When he was 13 I thought to myself, I can never stop Kilian, he does things that are not normal. But I didn’t stop him; instead, I put him in a training club that could guide him; I got him into competition.”
“I think Kilian knows when it’s dangerous, and he will stop. As he’s older, he knows it better. Some days he says to me, “No, the conditions are not good”. When it’s technical, he knows what he can do. He knows his limits.”
7. Let them fail.
Failing – the tears, the scabby knees and, God forbid, the broken bones – are all part of the process, acknowledges Núria.
“If we don’t make mistakes, we don’t learn. As babies, they learn by trying, having mistakes… All their life, it is the same.” It’s difficult, of course, but it’s all for the best. So embrace it.
8. Boys and girls are different, so encourage that difference
“I think boys and girls are different,” says Núria. “You need to give more encouragement to girls. Girls are more gentle, more measured. And I also think society thinks more in man and boys terms when it comes to the outdoors than girls – sadly that is still just the way it is.”
But a girl’s reticence at first shouldn’t be confused with a lack of desire, she says. “But boys, girls, they love the outdoors all the same. But in my case, I think the two – Naila, Kilian – I have to encourage them differently. But it’s important to me that boys and girls get out there, just the same.”