Caroline Ciavaldini on climbing & motherhood: ‘If Serena Williams has done it, why can’t I?’

Caroline Ciavaldini

For Caroline Ciavaldini, venturing into the unknown is a huge part of her day-to-day life. As a professional rock climber, she has become a master at conquering her fears and reaping the rewards of reaching each summit. 

But what has been perhaps her biggest challenge, was stepping into the unknown of first-time parenthood.

Caroline and her husband James Pearson – both avid climbers and The North Face athletes – recently welcomed their son into the world. In 'New Life' – a raw and honest film created by TNF – the two track their story as they show the world an extreme lifestyle can coexist with being a parent.

GiveMeSport Women sat down with Caroline as she chatted to us from her home in France. While James was out biking with two-year-old Arthur in the rural area of Connaux, the 36-year-old discussed the project with The North Face and how the two new parents have adapted their livelihoods to suit their new chapter together.

Caroline admitted at first, she wanted to keep her pregnancy a private matter, separate from her work. There were no plans in place to intertwine these two huge parts of her life. However, all that changed when talks of creating 'New Life' started.

"At first we thought 'this is a bit personal, but it's interesting that you think this is interesting'," Caroline said of the idea to create a film around her pregnancy as a professional athlete. After three parties encouraged the couple to consider the project, including The North Face asset manager, Caroline realised how important creating something like this could be.

"Maybe we shouldn't keep that [the pregnancy] too private, because I think it's an important topic. If nobody talks about it, I guess everyone feels shy [about it]. So we went for it."

CAROLINE CIAVALDINI

Into the great outdoors

After discovering her love for climbing in her preteens, Caroline couldn't get enough of the thrill. Up until she was 25, she competed at the highest level of indoor competition climbing, scooping a number of accolades including three French Championships titles and the Chamonix World Cup.

It was in her discovery of adventure climbing where she met her husband. Despite both being climbers, Caroline described James as "the most opposite from me you could find in the climbing world."

The two shared their different backgrounds, with James introducing Caroline to his territory.

"He showed me adventure and risk-taking. I didn't grow up in a background like that – I had parents who made me triple check before crossing the street and I want to die when I'm 80-years-old in my bed," she joked. "James showed me a different vision of life."

Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson

Balancing motherhood and livelihood

'New Life' takes us along Caroline and James' journey into the first moments of parenthood. In incredible footage, we go from watching a pregnant Caroline take to the cliffs with ease, to baby Arthur joining the couple on their breathtaking adventures.

While the 36-year-old says she is grateful for the support from their sponsor, The North Face – who renewed her contract after hearing her pregnancy news – not all new mothers have been as fortunate to keep their athletic status.

"I've got three friends who are top athletes and they watched my movie because they had so many questions. One friend, her life completely changed when she became a mum because all of her sponsors dropped her.

"I want to say to the world and to the sponsors that you can be an athlete and a mum. Obviously, this is a reality but weirdly not all the sponsors are ready to hear that."

You should not fire an athlete just because she is pregnant – that's ridiculous.

While Caroline acknowledges how fortunate she is in her situation, she delivered the reality of how difficult it is to reset your body after giving birth, and getting back into the physical state such an intense sport requires.

"I didn't anticipate the disappearance of time. Everybody tells you, but you don't believe it's possible that your nights are going to be that hard and your days are going to be that full. As an athlete, I didn't see it coming that you're having to ask your body to train in very bad conditions. You're exhausted, you still have some hormones and you don't have enough time [to train].

"You're in the sh*ttiest form of your life ever and you're training on a tired body! If I was a trainer, I would struggle to drive my athlete because rule number one is 'eat well, sleep well' and as a mum you can't do that.

"I really hadn't seen that coming, stupidly," Caroline continued. "I had this dream of coming back in six months because I've seen Serena Williams, she came back super fast and I'm stubborn, I was like 'if she's done it, why can't I'?'"

Arthur's first adventures

Arthur

Despite the tough comeback, Caroline never once thought about giving up on climbing. 'New Life' shows baby Arthur's first adventures in the mountains as his mum and dad take him to see the world with them.

The parents received some criticism over the welfare of Arthur in such extreme circumstances, but Caroline put it plain and simple: "you can't control risk all the time."

The youngster, who has already had his first taste of indoor climbing, has well and truly adopted his parents' passion for the extreme lifestyle.

"There's going to be this moment where you have let him go up the stairs on his own. As a parent, you have to let go in some way or another. You have to let your kids take a little risk. That's where we realised – risk is compulsory.

Caroline Ciavaldini

"In general, I think the way we raise Arthur is slightly unusual as we let him climb everywhere. We let him fall but always stop him from hurting himself badly because we think if he learns that falling hurts, he will be careful."

Caroline and James say they aren't gunning for little Arthur to be the next biggest adventure climber, but they are raising him to pursue life with a passion and find something that really drives him. 'New Life' shows his first chapter towards his parents' mission in achieving this.

You can watch The North Face's 'New Life' film in full below via this link, and see how the two fearless adventure climbers take on their biggest challenge yet in raising their baby boy.

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