Tony Reynaldo was going crazy, and it all began after a rock climbing adventure in Wyoming this summer. On the ride home to Central Ohio, Reynaldo-an accomplished rock and boulder climber-was in constant pain and he couldn't help noticing the right side of his scrotum had swollen to the size of a tennis ball.
Although Reynaldo has a high pain threshold, a lump that size in the man area just can't be ignored. So he reluctantly saw a doctor. Sure enough, the 36-year-old had an inguinal hernia that required surgery and the following orders from his surgeon: Do not lift or climb anything under any circumstances until I say you can.
Adding insult to surgery, Reynaldo was bitten by a tick during the trip and contracted Lyme disease.
"I'm kind of going crazy and watching everyone else climb makes it worse," the hyperactive Reynaldo says as he stands in the middle of Kinetic, the indoor bouldering gym he built and runs in a small building in an alley behind High Street, just north of Ohio State University.
Forced inactivity for Reynaldo is cruel and unusual punishment, akin to asking Terrelle Pryor to go cold turkey on the tattoos. Fortunately, climbing is only one of Reynaldo's many activities. He is a leading designer of climbing holds, those oddly shaped, molded-plastic creations screwed onto indoor and outdoor climbing walls to re-create the experience of scaling actual cliffs.
Reynaldo, in his small workshop in Kinetic, has designed about 3,500 different holds for several companies that have produced more than a million of his creations. His holds are on climbing walls around the world, including the ones at OSU and Vertical Adventures in the Worthington area.
"He does have that high-energy, obsessive-compulsive thing down to a T," says Paul Nelson, a member of Kinetic and a history professor at Otterbein University. "I'll come in at midnight and he's in the back shaping climbing holes, blasting that techno music a lot of climbers hate." Nelson says he has a lot in common with Reynaldo, saying, "We both like to climb until our fingers bleed." But he also seems to be firmly in the anti-techno music column.
As if all this isn't enough, Reynaldo is a design professor at Ohio State, where one of his courses is called Creativity: MacGyver Style! (He's one of the few professors who can get away with putting an exclamation point in the name of their courses; for instance, Studies in the History of American Foreign Policy! just doesn't work.) Years of standardized tests, Reynaldo believes, have crushed individual creativity, "and I find students lack awareness of their own intuitive ability to solve problems." In another class, he utilizes Nintendo Wiis to teach design principles.
In other words, Reynaldo is not exactly your standardized college professor. He's an adrenaline junkie who can't keep his mind or body still for very long and relishes his dual life as an intellectual and daredevil.
"He's a total workaholic and has so many irons in the fire it's amazing," says Troy Davison, one of Reynaldo's climbing buddies. Davison also is a total Type-A personality, but says he must bow to his friend's relentless energy and enthusiasm-and has devised ways to slow Reynaldo down. "When he comes to visit, my goal is to wear him out climbing," says Davison, who lives in Marion, Iowa. "I want to get him so exhausted he'll chill out."
Reynaldo is most comfortable 70 or 80 feet off the ground, clutching the side of a cliff, his safety rope secure. The world and his million-thoughts-a-minute mind slow down and Reynaldo can relax. "I let go of all the crap in my life, all the bullshit," he says of climbing. "As someone who probably has ADD or ADHD, climbing keeps me focused. Things get real quiet real quickly up there."
It wasn't always this way.
In fact, when Reynaldo, who grew up in the Cincinnati area, first started to climb the cliffs of nearby Kentucky, in 1991, he was downright scared. "I used to be terrified of heights, it gave me a very uneasy feeling," he says. "You learn to trust in your equipment . . . and learn that there's no difference between 80 feet up and 800 feet up."
There are several different kinds of outdoor climbing, and subsets within each type to make things even more confusing for the non-climbing layman. Here are the basics: Bouldering involves climbing boulders that are 10 feet or so high, with a mat placed below in case you fall. Sport climbing is the next step up, literally, and involves scaling cliffs with the help of safety equipment, including ropes, anchor bolts and a belayer (the person who holds the safety rope attached to the climber). And then there's soloing-rock climbing without the safety equipment.
"Never, not under any circumstances," Reynaldo says of the dangerous sport, which recently was featured on "60 Minutes." He adds he's also not a big fan of sub-zero temperatures and frostbite-and therefore doesn't ice climb, which is exactly what it sounds like. Reynaldo sticks to bouldering and sport climbing, and he specializes in difficult and technical climbs up 100-foot-high walls with overhangs.
"I've been up on higher stuff, 600- and 700-foot routes, but I'm more into difficulty than going higher up," he says. "I like the challenge of solving the problem and getting my hands and feet in the right place and the right sequence and not screwing it up."
If he does screw it up, Reynaldo adds, he gets "kicked off the wall," which is climbing talk for falling. Fortunately, his rope and belayer are there to stop his fall after a few feet, although often not before he bounces off the side of a cliff. And, yes, that hurts. A lot.
Reynaldo regularly climbs at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and New River Gorge in West Virginia, which are world-class cliffs. He's also made several trips out west, and he's sponsored by Clif Bar (energy bars), Five Ten (climbing shoes) and Friksn (climbing clothes).
Kinetic is a bouldering gym, which means the walls-filled with holds designed by Reynaldo-resemble 10-foot boulders. There are zigs, zags, overhangs and numerous ways to go laterally rather than vertically. And the floor is filled with mattresses in case of falls. "It's an old auto-repair place," Reynaldo says of the gym, which opened in October 2008 and is run as a co-op. "It's for climbers 18 and over and is open 24 hours a day; you get a key and that means we have to trust people to lock up and take care of the place." Many of the members are Ohio State students.
Nelson moved from Utah-a climbing mecca-around four years ago and began to hear about Kinetic. "I've climbed quite a few commercial gyms and Kinetic is small, but in terms of advantageously maximizing the use of space, it could not be better," he says. "There are steep angles and he uses the space really well and I don't think this could happen without a design professional doing it."
About seven million Americans participated in some sort of outdoor and indoor climbing in 2010, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, and indoor climbing gyms are a growing industry. "To be a good climber, you need strong hands and a lot of tenacity, and you also need to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie and individualist," says Reynaldo, who was never into team sports growing up. He didn't like being told what to do by coaches or relying on teammates.
"With climbing, if I'm not succeeding, it's my own fault, no one else's," he says. "It's you against the rock." Climbing, he says, is as much art as sport, and it involves visualizing routes in your mind and then overcoming the obstacles, especially gravity, to reach the top.
It is this challenge that keeps Reynaldo motivated and climbing at an age when many elite climbers are beginning to slow down. He finally was cleared to climb again in late November and immediately began to plan a trip to Red River Gorge and a new route up a steep cliff that is all but impossible to climb.
"I haven't been able to do it without falling," Reynaldo says. "I'll get three-quarters of the way up, to this one spot, and I get stuck. There's a little man with a big bat up there . . . and he kicks me off the mountain every time. I have to mentally find a way to break through that part."
Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.