Meet the Amazing 3-Year-Old Rock Climber: 'Risk and Danger Are Subjective,' Says Mom
"She truly loves being outside and has a wonderful sense of imagination," Morgan Brechler tells PEOPLE
At 2 months old, Hadlie Brechler went on her first hike with her mom on the Wind Cave Trail near Mesa, Arizona. Although she slept through the entire experience, Hadlie, now 3, has since made up for it by exploring the Grand Canyon, hiking around Hawaii and Mexico, camping beneath the stars in remote red-rock country and scaling steep canyon walls with ropes and harnesses.
Sometime during this time period, her mother, Morgan Brechler, also documented her first smile, the first time she rolled over and her first steps.
Now the mother-daughter duo are building a fan club on Instagram with nearly 110,000 people following their weekend climbing adventures, and Brechler, 25, has started the The Born Wild Project to encourage other parents to keep their kids in touch with the outdoors.
“I feel at my best after spending time outside and in nature,” Brechler tells PEOPLE, “so it only makes sense to share that with my daughter. Children who are kept indoors are not as well off in many ways as children who get outside. There is a serious plague of nature-deficiency going on right now in America. Children are spending less time outside being kids, getting dirty and climbing trees and more inside on their iPads.”
The only pads Brechler and her daughter have seen lately are the ones beneath the sleeping bags they unfurl after a long day of climbing or hiking. And the avid outdoorswoman and landscape designer hopes to keep it that way.
Since she started climbing every weekend with Hadlie and the toddler’s dad, Jared Marvel, a small business owner and writer, Brechler feels less attached to a high-tech world and more in tune with the silence of an empty canyon or the beauty of a dark sky sparkling with stars.
“The outdoors are incredibly spiritual to us in a way that charges our souls with energy and passion unmatched in the material world,” Brechler tells PEOPLE. “We feel blessed to live the adventurous life that we do. When we appreciate the subtle details of every blade of grass and every tiny bug, it helps us feel grounded and humbled and a part of something much bigger than us in scale.”
Brechler, who lives in Phoenix and grew up playing in the surrounding desert on weekends with her parents, knew when Hadlie was born that she wanted her daughter to feel that same sense of wonderment in the wilderness.
“Jared (her partner) had introduced me to climbing when we first started dating four years ago,” she says, “and it became a moving meditation for me.”
Brechler started scaling rocks after Hadlie was born, carrying the infant in a baby vest. “The idea that she would grow up hiking and be a part of all my journeys was so rewarding that the extra calorie burning was totally worth it,” she tells PEOPLE.
When Hadlie was 18 months old, Jared built her an indoor rock wall so that she could practice climbing whenever she wanted. Now that she’s ready for more of a challenge, Brechler takes her to an indoor rock gym, giving Hadlie taller walls to scale and more variety in hand-holds and movements.
When climbing outside, Hadlie has very little fear of falling, says Bechler, but she and Jared make sure they’re there to catch her when it happens. To those who have criticized her and commented on social media that she is endangering her daughter’s life, Bechler says, nonsense.
“Risk and danger are subjective,” she says. “When Hadlie climbs on a rope out of our reach, she wears a helmet, and when she boulders, we are always there focused with her and ready to catch her. Some people have even given us grief over the dangers of hiking, which is kind of sad. They’re so paralyzed with fear that they won’t even walk with their children on trails. Parents are doing their children no favors in the long run by reinforcing fear.”
More than anything else, Bechler tells PEOPLE, rock climbing has helped her daughter’s confidence.
“She truly loves being outside and has a wonderful sense of imagination,” she says. “My hopes and dreams for Hadlie are that she never doubts herself. I want her to continue to have self-love, a love for others and a drive that everyone looks up to. I want her to always follow her own deep passions in life, no matter what they might be.”