Photo by Chris Casella

Rock Star

Rock Star: when you hear that word, Tony Reynaldo isn’t probably the type that comes to mind.

The globally recognized rock climbing holds designer and professional climber is now the owner of Kinetic Climbing & Fitness—and if you have ever climbed a rock wall before, you’ve encountered his designs. Reynaldo is one of those rare types who has woven together his many talents to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts—a concept known as gestalt. Calling him a designer is not just lip service; Reynaldo has 20-plus years of experience in design, as a student, teacher, and practitioner, often alongside famous designers. He’s earned three design degrees concluding with his MFA in Design from Ohio State University, where he later became a professor. It is precisely this training as a designer and its focus on function, form, utility, ergonomics, and user-centric design that guides his hold process and sets him apart from other rock-hold “shapers.”

“As an individual I’ve taken my love of climbing and my experiences as a designer, creating a career for myself from both ends of the spectrum. I mean, talk about a win-win.”

His introduction to climbing came in 1991 when a coworker tossed him on the back of a motorcycle and drove him to Eden Park in Cincinnati, Reynaldo’s hometown. A “switch had been turned on,” only he didn’t realize at the time how much it was going to affect his life going forward.

Reynaldo fell into designing climbing holds quite by accident. He had been immersed in the sport for six years when a chance encounter with a stranger set the path that Reynaldo has been navigating ever since. He was in Red River Gorge, Kentucky, when he witnessed a man being rather forcefully ejected from a van by an angry girlfriend. The two quickly established the fact that they were both climbers, and Reynaldo took the man in.

“Climbing has been good to me and I want to give other people that chance. I want to be able to say before I die that I’ve given back more than
I’ve taken.”

“That’s what we do as climbers: we all take care of each other. I blame him, in a positive way, for getting me into this industry. It’s amazing how one person can affect another’s life.”

It turns out that this gentleman knew a legend in the climbing holds world, Louie Anderson. In 1997 he was given the rare opportunity to train under Anderson, and the rest is history. Reynaldo returned to Ohio and continued honing his craft both on the wall and in the design classroom. The combination of the two fields was extremely serendipitous in that his experiences in design elevated his form making of climbing holds to a level that is only paralleled by perhaps a dozen shapers globally.

“I’ve been able to apply all of my design experience throughout this whole process, how I deal with clients, billing, attribution, etc. I don’t have an agent or a firm. I do all the shipping, all the wrapping. The OSU program really helped shape—no pun intended—my professionalism.” There are only a handful of shapers in the world that deliver the quality and functionality climbing holds companies are seeking. Since he understands the process from the very first chunk of foam down to the casting of the final product, Reynaldo knows the limitations and capabilities of the entire process for the holds he creates (over 4,300 since 1997). It has not all been a cakewalk for the designer—there have been sacrifices.

“Hardly anyone knows this,” he laughs, “but I lived out of my van for a year while I was saving the money to open this gym. I was sleeping in my van, bathing in a rubber maid container, then putting on my suit and going to teach class. I drained my retirement; I took my pension out. My chips are so all-in there is no turning back now.” It was perhaps his own struggles and sacrifices that motivated him to begin helping others.

‘Give back more than you take’ is Reynaldo’s motto, and one that he takes seriously. Wanting to use the sport he loves as a vehicle to help others has inspired him to pursue endeavors in which he can give back to the Columbus community.

“Climbing has been good to me and I want to give other people that chance. I want to be able to say before I die that I’ve given back more than I’ve taken.”

One of these efforts is Kinetic Kids, a program he’s working on that facilitates giving inner city and under privileged children a positive direction in their lives through exposure to the world of climbing. Another event involves a partnership with the Mid Ohio Food Bank called the “Will Climb for Food” event. The motivating force behind that program was Reynaldo’s realization that there are a lot of struggling single mothers who had to make the choice between rent or food. “I haven’t had to experience that first-hand, but now being a father, I can see how hard that is. What if we could use climbing to raise awareness for homeless and hunger?”

Will Climb for Food is set to take place in the spring of 2015. Reynaldo hopes to open three more gyms around Columbus within the next few years, and will continue to hone his craft and mount accomplishments.

“I am juggling a lot of hats, and I am stressed out of my mind, but I love every damn minute of it.”