- Associated Press - Friday, December 4, 2015

PROVO, Utah (AP) - Abbi Hunt, 17, clings to a set of green plastic holds, trying to keep her body as close to the overhanging wall as she can manage. The V3-rated bouldering problem at Momentum Indoor Climbing in Lehi is one that she’s been “projecting” for two months, trying repeatedly to make it to the top “clean” - without any misplaced hands or feet and without any falls.

Climbing coach Aaron Shamy and other members of the gym’s High School Climbing League crowd around to shout words of encouragement. Tension builds as Hunt makes her way through the hardest, steepest part of the climb. Nearing the top of the wall, she swings her body to the left and throws her hand up to catch the final hold, turns her head to reveal a huge grin and then drops onto the cushioned mat below to be met with cheers and high-fives.

When Momentum Indoor Climbing opened its new bouldering gym in Lehi at the end of 2014, Shamy was already thinking about getting involved with a youth league. At the start of this school year, teams of climbers from five different area high schools were assembled. Each team, organized as clubs at their respective schools, comes to the gym once a week to work with Shamy and the other coaches and once a week to work under their own direction. Every four to six weeks the league hosts a competition, with climbers adding to their team’s score by completing climbs on their own.

Hunt said she found climbing after injuries sustained as a competitive cheerleader prevented her from doing most other sports.

“Climbing is the first sport I’ve been able to do in a couple of years that doesn’t hurt, so it’s really nice to get active again,” she said.

But what really kept Hunt coming back was the camaraderie and support that she found among her fellow teammates and competitors. Teams from different schools share the gym and climb together, and there are no rivalries among them.

The green V3 took Hunt many tries over two months to complete while a lot of the other climbers in the league could do it with ease. There were some frustrations seeing people casually complete a climb she struggled with, but Hunt said the good thing is that the people weren’t arrogant about their successes.

“As soon as they come down, they don’t gloat,” Hunt said.

Instead, the successful climbers would encourage Hunt to get back up after her falls and suggest ways to do the climb differently. That cooperative spirit doesn’t disappear at the competitions either.

“At competitions, we’re cheering for every person we know,” Hunt said. “We’re screaming their name because we care about them finishing their climb more than winning it as a team.”

When asked about the atmosphere among climbers at the competitions, Shamy said it’s all about the spirit of climbing.

“When people compete in a climbing competition, the competitors will gather around and cheer you on and lift you up and they’ll have sincere praise and high fives for you when you’re done,” Shamy said. “Whether you accomplished (the climb) or not.”

The value that the sport of rock climbing provides to young people is not a new revelation for Shamy, who took home several X Games medals in speed climbing when he was a teenager in the late 1990s. Shamy now lives in Eagle Mountain and teaches seminary classes for students at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs.

Sitting in a quiet corner of the gym after a night of coaching climbers, Shamy waxes poetic about the rewards that sports, climbing or otherwise, can provide to young people.

“Any kind of sport, be it individual or team sport, can go toward molding an individual into who they become,” he said. “It teaches kids discipline, hard work, goal-setting. It helps them understand what it means to have passion and desire for a thing.”

Watching Shamy instruct the young climbers, you can see and hear his passion for climbing and for coaching. He can talk endlessly about the intricacies of the sport, but he’s quick to tell you how it relates to life beyond the climbing wall.

“To come in and throw yourself at a boulder problem or route and to fall off time after time and then, like we saw tonight with Abbi, whose been working that green V3 over there since mid-September . to see her get it, that’s what coaching is all about for me,” Shamy said.

Climbing gives young people the chance to try hard and train themselves to achieve something difficult and to take those lessons with them beyond the gym, he said.

“If they can do hard things in the gym, they can get their homework done. And if they can do hard things in the gym they can be a good friend and find a good job and finish high school and go on to finish college and become productive members of society, feel OK about who they are,” Shamy said. “And that will set them up (for success) with anything this strange and crazy world can throw at them.”

This might seem like a lot of weight to place on the act of climbing up plastic holds on an artificial wall, but Shamy stands by it.

“It does sound lofty when I think back about the words I just said, but it’s my story,” he said.

Shamy even said you’d be hard pressed to find a climber who wouldn’t tell you that the sport changed their life, just as it changed his.

“Anybody who really wants to know how this works should just come down to Momentum when we’re having a competition and watch,” he said.

___

Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldextra.com

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