Mountain Challenge celebrates 25 years
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mountain Challenge at Maryville College is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
“This anniversary is a good time for us to look forward, and the two biggest challenges we see in our communities are getting people to be more active and getting more people outside,” said founder and director Bruce Guillaume, 58. “It only helps for people to be fit, it only helps for people to be outdoors, a lot of the programming that will be tied to this anniversary celebration will be planned with those goals in mind.
The Mountain Challenge anniversary will also focus on the environment, he said. “It’s connected to the goal of ‘getting more people outside.’ Once you’re outdoors and you have a connection to nature, I think you feel a duty to protect it. Unfortunately, being green and being environmentally aware today is more of an academic exercise than a personal experience.”
The 25th anniversary celebration officially gets under way at 1 p.m. Sunday with the “Outdoor Adventure: A Celebration of Human-Powered Activity” held on the grounds of Maryville College’s Crawford House, which has been home to Mountain Challenge throughout its operation. The celebration will include outdoor activities, vendor tables and screenings of the documentaries “Happy” and “Play Again.”
Founded in 1987
Guillaume founded Mountain Challenge at Maryville College in 1987. According to its mission statement, the program strives to “provide high-quality, safe outdoor experiences designed to change the world for the better, one person at a time.”
While the program serves students on campus, Mountain Challenge, in its capacity as a limited liability company, serves corporate clients. The Mountain Challenge staff use a ropes course, a 55-foot alpine tower, and other outdoor activities to teach employees best practices in teamwork, communication and problem-solving.
Guillaume graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Maryville College in 1976. He earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee and a post-graduate degree from the Kentucky University School of Medicine.
Outdoor activities during graduate school and working at the North Carolina Outward Bound School are what sparked and fueled Guillaume’s interest in creating Mountain Challenge, he said. “As a youth growing up, I was involved in the traditional team sports — baseball, basketball and football, and I played basketball at Maryville College. Those experiences typically end with a graduation. The transition from those traditional team sports to whatever’s next becomes important. For me, that was getting involved in outdoor individual sports.”
For Guillaume, that’s ranged from road races and trail runs, cycling, flatwater paddling, mountaineering in North and South America and cross-country skiing. Most recently, he’s taken up ocean sports like kayaking, surfing and body boarding.
When he founded Mountain Challenge in 1987, he was the lone staff member and served roughly 30 participants, the vast majority being corporate clients. The next year, he doubled that figure with Maryville College students, and, by the early 1990s, it was integrated into the curriculum with opportunities for academic credit.
With Mountain Challenge, Maryville College was among the first colleges and universities in the United States to support a curriculum that takes all of its students outside, Guillaume said. “Mountain Challenge is one of the 20 oldest outdoor programs in the country, and possibly the oldest program in the South.”
No comfort zone
As part of the college’s Orientation course, Mountain Challenge helps new students form friendships and support groups quickly while encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones and keep the “big picture” in perspective. Developing healthy habits for the college years is also stressed.
Today, full-time Mountain Challenge staff members include Guillaume, Operations Manager Mary Steger, and Program Manager Tyson Murphy. About 50 part-time employees round out the staff with 10 to 20 being MC students. One of those is Guillaume’s daughter, Emily, who is a freshman at the college.
In total, Mountain Challenge saw 7,300 people go through its program last year. The most Guillaume and his staff have handled is 10,000, and that’s about the maximum number they can accommodate and still ensure quality. The recent economic recession has forced many businesses to scale back on training, he said, but he’s hopeful for growth in the coming years.
“We have helped groups and organizations from fields such as health care, advertising, manufacturing, food service, banking and government,” Guillaume said. “At least one-third of what we do is aimed at K-12 school kids. We recognized a long time ago that it’s easier to teach kids about teamwork and pushing comfort zones than it is to someone who’s 40 and knows everything.”
Guillaume said he has enjoyed being able to experiment with different groups — seeing what’s effective with different populations, different ages and groups with different needs.
With Mountain Challenge at year 25, Guillaume said he takes great satisfaction in the recognition and reputation of the program. He’s also proud of the Maryville College students who’ve been a part of it and become confident, competent, problem-solving leaders as a result of what they learn — and pass on — in the outdoors. “They push me,” he said of his student staff members.