Five friends from five different countries have come together to create something special for the residents of Columbus.

Cummins engineers Ilio Gonzalez, Bruno Pinillos, Dimitar Totkov, Micah Uemura and Juan Valencia will be providing the first rock-climbing gym in the city when they open the Columbus Rock Gym in early August. An idea that originated in Gonzalez’s head two years ago is now just a month away from becoming a reality.

Gonzalez mentioned the idea to Pinillos and another friend in 2015, but Pinillos, who still was finishing school while balancing a full-time job, was not in the position to take on such a project. It wasn’t until Gonzalez, Pinillos and Valencia were traveling back from a rock climbing trip last summer when the idea sparked up again.

By then, Pinillos was ready to hop on board, so the three of them agreed to take on the challenge. They soon realized three people would not be enough to take on such a huge project, so that’s when Totkov and Uemura got involved. All five of them put up an equal amount of investment money and went from there.

“The first four or five months we were kind of just testing the market and seeing if it was a viable idea,” Totkov said. “And then from there on, we started looking for places to lease, researching how much it actually cost to build one of these things if we do the raw material ourselves and do all the labor ourselves.”

Trying to find the right building to house a rock climbing gym took time. The square footage had to be just right — enough space to work with, but not too large to put them over budget. The height of the ceiling couldn’t be too short. It had to be tall enough for a 15-foot climbing wall and climbing cave top-out deck.

They eventually decided on a 3,000-square-foot building near the airport. Valencia and Pinillos were almost done with the design, and the lease was ready to be signed. The address had already been posted on their website when Valencia and Pinillos’ design was ripped to shreds, along with the lease. Adjustments had to be made to fit the demands of the community.

The group received nearly 300 likes within the first week of creating the Columbus Rock Gym Facebook page, including multiple five-star reviews, despite being months away from the opening date. The phone rang with a customer asking about pricing and location on the very first day of setting up the Google phone number.

The community interest in the project was more than expected, but the amount of parents asking about a section for kids was the most noticeable. Although a dedicated kids area was not in their original plans, all five of the founders wanted to give the community what it was asking for.

That meant scrapping everything, including their 3,000-square-foot building. They set their minds on looking for a building twice the size, which meant more cost. They found a building on Cottage Avenue.

“There’s more steel, there’s more wood, there’s more padding, there’s more everything,” Gonzalez said. “Now, we’ve implemented a lounge for people to hang out and parents to wait for their kids. There are so many things that we’ve tailored for the community, and we’re like, ‘Dang, what do we do now?’ This has gotten a little bit out of hand. Do we get more loans? Do we get more savings? We are already up to here.”

They saw the success Lucabe Coffee experienced with crowd funding and decided to model that.

“Crowd funding is a very new way of getting funding,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a way of almost preselling your services and goods instead of getting a loan, opening then selling those goods and services to pay off the loan. … We’re letting the community pre-buy all this stuff and experiences.”

The group set up their crowd sourcing through and are $4,405 away from their $12,500 goal. The group said the community has played a big role in helping with the creation of the gym.

Some people have even helped them with the building process. They are saving money by doing all the building themselves, working five hours a day from 5 to 10 p.m. after work and sometimes later on the weekends.

They occasionally take a day off to keep themselves sane and enjoy other things in their personal lives, but their days will remain full until opening day. Appreciation is shown to those participating in the crowd funding by offering free T-shirts, shoe rentals and many other things, depending on the amount of the donation.

Uemura said Columbus is a good location to open a rock climbing gym and all five engineers are anxious for the opening day in early August.

“The Columbus community is already really active,” Uemura said. “So it was a great community already for this sort of thing. It will be sort of a beginning climbing community to start, so we’re tailoring that to the community. There are some veteran climbers in the community, but for the most part it is a lot of starting up climbers.”

Columbus Rock Gym

Address: 1503 Cottage Ave.

Projected Opening Day: Early August

Hours: 5-10 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends

Unlimited memberships: 12 months at $39/month; 3 months at $44/month; 1 month at $49

Drop in prices: Day pass ($10); Rock Block seven-visit punch card ($60)

Climbing walls: 15-foot wall and 10-foot kids wall

Owners: Ilio Gonzalez (sales manager); Bruno Pinillos (construction expert); Dimitar Totkov (marketing lead); Micah Uemura (technical analyst); Juan Valencia (design specialist)

Websites:; Facebook, Columbus Rock Gym; fundable

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5632.