Western Michigan University Intern Makes a Lasting Impression on Challenge Mountain

Western Michigan University Intern Makes a Lasting Impression on Challenge Mountain

April 2023 — An Occupational Therapy Doctorate Student at Western Michigan University (WMU), Claire Hague chose an internship with Challenge Mountain as part of her final Doctoral Capstone project. A requirement toward her degree became a life-long learning experience. And, every person involved became a beneficiary.

A love of skiing and an affinity for northern Michigan, Claire coupled her interests with her OT focus to help people living with physical and cognitive disabilities enjoy Challenge Mountain’s adaptive recreation programs. Though involvement in other recreational activities was part of her routine, most of Claire’s time was spent on the snow teaching participants to ski. Whether using adaptive equipment or guiding first-time learners through the basics, “her enthusiasm was contagious,” shares Programming Director Linda Armstrong. “Claire connected with participants, their families, our volunteers and staff on such a personal level.”

In addition to on-hill and other adaptive activities, Claire participated in operational tasks with Armstrong to better understand the workings of organization. Collaboration at the Strategic Planning level brought Claire’s OT education to the table as well.

“We are so grateful that Claire was part of our team this winter,” shares Armstrong. “We are indebted to her passionate perspective and contributions to our organization, and we can’t wait to see what Claire does next after graduating!”

As part of Claire’s WMU program, she has written a blog post about her experience. Below is the full article, as “We feel it truly shares how Challenge Mountain is making GREAT THINGS HAPPEN TOGETHER,” concludes Armstrong.

Hope on the Slopes

by Claire Elyse Hague, Occupational Therapy Doctorate Student, Western Michigan University

As I slide into my career in Occupational Therapy (OT), I couldn’t be more grateful for completing my internship at Challenge Mountain.

It’s been a privilege to witness the joys, obstacles, triumphs, and thrills of participants gliding down a ski hill.

Like many, my passion for skiing attracted me to the organization. Though I’ve loved every second of being on the slopes, it’s the people who have made a profound impact. I’ve learned that it’s more than just about providing access to skiing, it’s about instilling self-determination.

Self-determination theory is frequently used in clinical psychology research. According to Ryan & Deci, it refers to one’s ability to make choices and take control of one’s life (2000). The field of OT coins it as being an agent of one’s own change – a primary decision maker in all life’s choices (Cole & Tufano, 2020, p. 158). For individuals with disabilities, it’s especially important that their freedom to choose is validated. From my time at Challenge Mountain, I can attest that the staff, volunteers, and board members are dedicated to enhancing self-determination.

There are 3 requirements that facilitate self-determination: competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Brown, 2011). Challenge Mountain fosters these conditions through providing instruction that facilitates competence, autonomy to choose from a variety of activities, and a culture of relatedness so that participants can share experiences with their peers and family.

By integrating these principles into their adaptive recreation programs, Challenge Mountain creates an environment for individuals to forge their own path to mastery in their desired activity. Whether it’s choosing to put on ski boots for the first time, try a new activity, or simply experience wind in their face from a ski run, Challenge Mountain embraces the individual choices that ultimately lead to self-determination in other areas of life.

In summary, my experience with Challenge Mountain has opened my eyes to the endless opportunities that can arise when you allow individuals with disabilities a chance to choose their own adventure. I’ve discovered that hope can be found anywhere – and a ski hill should not be overlooked.


  • Brown, C. (2011). Motivation. In C. Brown & V. Stoffel (Eds.), Occupational therapy in mental health: A vision for participation (pp. 330-343). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.
  • Cole, M. & Tufano, R. (2020). Applied Theories in Occupational Therapy: A Practical Approach, Second Edition: Vol. Second edition. SLACK Incorporated.
  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and wellbeing. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.


Started in 1984, Challenge Mountain removes barriers and supports social inclusion through adaptive recreation for children, youth and adults living with physical and cognitive disabilities. Activities include adaptive skiing and biking, nature and cultural activities, art programs, equine therapy and numerous other life-enriching programs.

For more information about Challenge Mountain, visit challengemtn.org or call 231.582.1186.


Challenge Mountain is a non-profit 501c3 organization.