The Aviemore area has produced more Olympians per head of population than any other part of the UK. Lesley McKenna, who competed in three Winter Olympics in snowboarding heats, is one of them. Based in Aviemore, the beloved place she grew up, she’s now programme manager for the GB Park and Pipe team and works with coaches to support them in cultivating an optimal mindset in athletes.

Lesley McKenna, Olympian: “Nature can help us through difficult times”

Lesley McKenna, Aviemore Olympian
Lesley McKenna, Aviemore Olympian

A passionate believer in the power of nature to help us through difficult times, she has found her connection to nature – through her daily walks and bike rides in the Cairngorms National Park – has been a great source of strength dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

For this blog, she talked to VisitCairngorms about how nature can help us build our resilience as we all face an uncertain future.

Here are her top tips to use nature to build your resilience:

  • The simple act of being in nature is good for our bodies

    We can feel them relax. Slow down, breathe and savour. Wander the woods on foot, or get on your bike, or even just breathe the air outside your front door. This new perspective will help move your mindset on and breathing air from outside is the simplest way to really feel that your body is also part of the outside natural world.

Photo credit: Lesley McKenna
  • Watch the ‘mini cycles’ of weather and be comforted by them

    Like a storm, they always pass, just as this Coronavirus crisis will pass, and both bring a chance to reflect and take stock of what is important in your life and what you might want, or need, to renew.

Lesley looking out at a misty Loch Morlich
  • You can’t just ‘think’ your way out of difficult emotions

    You have to let your body process and feel them. As an athlete, I see my body as a tool that is processing information all the time. I use nature in a very practical way to process anxiety, thoughts and emotions.

  • You can help your body to process information by doing things like touching bark or grass, or using your other senses like smell, taste, hearing and sight

    All these senses help our bodies process emotion so we can make sense of it and move on. Even if you have limited mobility, you can smell the rain or touch the grass or feel breaking waves on your feet or really listen to the sounds coming from nature.

Lesley taking in the sights and sounds of a waterfall
  • Nature can help you learn about and understand yourself better

    When you’re in nature, watch your reactions to the shifting weather patterns, to the rain on your face, to the wind whipping in your ear, to the feel of grass beneath your feet. Try as much as you can to feel your connection to the nature; you are a part of your environment and your environment is part of you and that is a thought, when out in the Cairngorms, which always gives me great comfort and makes me feel very alive.

Photo credit: Lesley McKenna
  • Look at nature closely and you will soon see examples of resilience all around you

    I love looking at the amazing pine trees here. There’s one, near the Lily Loch in Rothiemurchus, that I’ve noticed a lot in lockdown. It’s a tree which was obviously hit by lightning when it was younger and so it’s split off into two parts, one which died and one which keeps living. This trauma has made it so unique and striking and I always think about how despite being struck (or perhaps because of it?) it has flourished and become so strong; a different version of itself than it would have otherwise been.

Caledonian Pine by L.McKenna
  • When you see these examples of resilience in nature, you realise that nature takes change in its stride and that we can be inspired to do the same 


  • Nature helps me connect with a ‘higher power’ and a sense that life is about more than me

    This helps me in difficult times in not feeling so alone but, instead, connected to a bigger picture.

Lesley McKenna ski touring Cairngorms
Lesley McKenna ski touring Cairngorms
  • Nature is constantly shedding things that it needs to let go of, but this can be hard for us humans

We can look to nature to see how it does this, an obvious phenomenon is Autumn, for instance, when the leaves fall off the trees. Nature doesn’t fight this letting go, it is an accepted part of the life process. As an athlete, I often got injured so had to learn how to let things go and discover my new normal and the ‘new me’ within this; that is a practice which is serving me well now.

Photo credit: Lesley McKenna
  • You can tap into the power of nature wherever you are

Although obviously I am extremely lucky to be in the Cairngorms and have such unique, awe-inspiring nature on my doorstep. However,  in a city, for example, observe the dandelions pushing up between the paving stones, showing that nature always finds a way through obstacles. We humans are nature, too, and we too can find a way through, too.

  • To me, connection to myself and connection to nature are one and the same thing

If I don’t have that vital connection to myself, which I can get through nature, I start to feel an unsettling sense of disconnect, lingering sadness, even – so I prioritise it.

Lesley is also a yoga and meditation teacher
  • As well as using nature to connect better to myself, I also use it to connect to others

Nature naturally brings with it a feeling of connection to fellow humans, and a deep empathy for the human condition. Focusing on this feeling is so important to me at the moment since we really are, all around the globe, in this together.

  • Use nature as a resource

    As a way to get through this time, I can’t speak highly enough of it. If I didn’t have nature, I don’t know what I’d do right now.

Photo credit: Lesley McKenna


VisitCairngorms newsletter