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Throwback Thursday: Priest Who Set Speed Climbing Record

Aaron Shamy

Before speed climbing made its way into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it debuted in the X Games in the late 1990s. In this clip, Aaron Shamy sets a new speed climbing record during the 1999 San Fransisco X Games.

Who was Shamy? He was an 18-year-old priest in the Holladay 24th Ward, Holladay Utah North Stake.

In a story posted idschurchnews.com, Shaun Stahle reported in 1999, “At 5-feet 6-inches tall and 125 pounds, Aaron stands nine inches shorter than the climber from Ukraine who beat him by the length of a hand in 1998 for the world championship…

“Such high-profile accomplishments have opened many doors for Aaron to share his testimony. One night, sitting with members of the U.S. Climbing team at dinner during a weeklong climbing camp, questions of Aaron’s religious practices came up. Aaron explained his beliefs and by the end of the discussion several hours later had organized the plates and utensils on the table to illustrate the plan of salvation.”

Shamy quit climbing the following year to follow his path in religion.

Aaron Shamy speed climbing at X Games 1999

In an interview with Lisa M. G. Crockett for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2000, he said, “When we were driving to different places they wanted to know why I would walk away from speed climbing, when I’m on top of the climbing world, to serve a mission.

“I answered their questions, and sometimes I volunteered answers to questions they should have asked.”

Crockett concluded the article with, “Aaron turned 19 just a few months before this year’s X Games, and it would have been easy to postpone his mission just long enough to compete one more time before he left for the mission field, but he says he can’t wait that long. He’s too excited about being a full-time missionary.

Aaron Shamy at X Games 1999

“’One of my sponsors asked about ‘this mission thing,’’ says Aaron. ‘He asked if my church can’t make an exception and let me leave later. I told him it’s my choice.’

“So this is it. Aaron has traded in his climbing gear for a suit and tie, and he’s headed for a summit of a different kind.

“When Aaron returns home, maybe he’ll be a little taller; maybe he won’t. But he knows that he’ll grow spiritually and that his testimony and his love for people will be stronger than ever. And it’s that kind of training, more than any climbing or exercise he could do, that makes Aaron easy to spot in any crowd.”

In 2015, Shamy did an interview with Spenser Heaps of the Daily Herald, in which Heaps said, “In that first national competition, only a year and a half after Shamy started climbing, he placed second in sport climbing. In the speed climbing division, he beat out Chris Sharma, now one of the most famous and accomplished climbers in the world, to take first place.

“After that first national competition, Shamy was picked up by sponsors and ended up taking home the silver medal in speed climbing at the 1998 X Games, and the gold medal in 1999. It seemed like the sky was the limit for Shamy’s climbing career.

“But he aspired for more, and following the 1999 X Games he took two years off to serve his mission for the LDS Church.”

Aaron Shamy in 2015 Photo Spenser Heaps / Daily Herald

In that interview, Shamy said he later returned to climber, got married and had children. He said, “Climbing is a perishable talent.

“Like any athletic talent, it’s perishable; it’s going to go away the minute that you stop working at it.

“Some people can carry that on for decades, and I just found balance in pursuing multiple things that brought me joy.”

Watch Shamy Win Gold