When you first look at Aaron Shamy, you might think he could get lost in a crowd. At five feet, six inches tall, he has the build of a gymnast. He’s not exactly imposing, especially when you compare him with athletes who passed six feet several inches ago and can bench press more than Aaron weighs.
But believe it or not, Aaron gets compared to those sorts of people all the time. As a world-class speed climber, he caught the attention of climbing fans when he won the 1999 Extreme Games—you may know them as the X Games—speed-climbing competition against a host of climbers who were much taller, stronger, and more experienced.
Journalists, broadcasters, and other climbers quickly forget that Aaron is small when they see him climb. A sportswriter named Steve Smyth described Aaron’s climbing style at the X Games by saying, “He shot up the wall at the sound of the starting gun like a cat darting up a tree to evade an angry dog.”
But it’s what happens after Aaron wins that is truly attention getting.
“I don’t ever remember being nervous talking about my religion at all,” says Aaron, a member of the Holladay 24th Ward, Holladay Utah North Stake. “I’ve made God the center of my life, and everything just falls into place after that. If something is that important, you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it.”
And he’s not. After his big win, Aaron was asked how he would spend his substantial winnings. Winners in other X Game sports were talking about cars and other “toys” they would spend their money on. But not Aaron.
“I told them that the money would pay for my mission. They [the newscasters at the event] really seemed to like that answer.”
It’s not surprising that Aaron, fresh from the most exciting win of his athletic career, would immediately mention a mission. He doesn’t let opportunities to talk about the gospel slip by, whether he’s on television, with a group of fellow X Gamers, or just talking one-on-one with a friend.
When people meet Aaron they always want to know more about the boy with boundless energy. They are interested in the reasons he doesn’t drink or smoke, the reasons he always seems cheerful, and the reasons people are so drawn to him. And nothing makes Aaron happier than telling them why.
“When I talked to the people at ABC Sports, I told them that the reason I do the things I do is that there are so many good things people can do that there’s no time left for all that unholy, unspiritual stuff,” says Aaron.
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.
“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.
Editor’s note: Aaron has received his call to the Italy Padova Mission.