Every day, Dino Ruggeri, ’11, walks amidst the purple and gray 47-foot rock walls and artificial boulders at Dyno Detroit, the city’s first gym dedicated to climbing. As the gym’s founder and owner, he dons a purple shirt and with an ever-present smile, greets gym members and shows the ropes to introductory climbers of various backgrounds. Often, his dog, Pig, trots close behind.
The 18,400-square-foot facility is equipped with a padded bouldering space, top rope and lead climbing, a fitness area, and a yoga studio. It sits in the Eastern Market neighborhood at the north edge of the Dequindre Cut, a popular greenway.
In designing the gym, Ruggeri focused on more than typical climbing gym amenities. He envisioned an inclusive and accessible space in the heart of the city.
“We wanted to open this space up to folks that don’t look like a traditional climber: a white, upper-middle-class male,” Ruggeri said. “We have all genders here. If you come in at any given night, you’re not going to see one type of person.”
Ruggeri is intentional in how he accomplishes this. Dyno Detroit hosts meetups for climbers of color, women, and those who identify as LBGTQ+. He also invites local youth organizations to the gym and encourages people of all body types and abilities to explore indoor climbing.
“He’s created such a positive environment that’s so inclusive,” said Kimo Frederiksen, an openly gay member of Dyno Detroit who joined soon after it opened. “I’ve been in Detroit for about 15 years, and it’s pretty incredible to see a business develop in a way that it attracts such a diverse population of people, because quite often things feel segregated within the city, whether it’s based on race or sexuality.”
Dyno Detroit opened in April 2021, the manifestation of a vision Ruggeri first conceived more than seven years prior.
From Dream to Reality
Ruggeri moved to Telluride, Colorado, after graduating from U-M in 2011, and worked as an instructor during ski season. In the summer, he led students on multi-day adventures including mountain biking, climbing, kayaking, and hiking expeditions throughout Southwest Colorado.
He enjoyed his life, but by his mid-20s, a restless urge left him wanting.
“I felt like I may not be fulfilling the potential impact that I could have,” Ruggeri said. “In a small mountain town, I was impacting lives, but I wanted to leverage my position in life.”
His desire to open a gym grew organically when a friend in Colorado brought it to his attention that Detroit lacked a fully dedicated space for climbing. Soon he became obsessed with the idea of opening one himself.
While living in Colorado, Ruggeri entered Motor City Match, a business accelerator competition in Detroit, in the fall of 2015. He won a free business planning course, attended indoor rock climbing conferences, visited wall manufacturers, and spent hours researching indoor gyms and cold calling their owners.
Ruggeri moved back to southeast Michigan a year later to fully commit himself to the project.
Over the next few years, he sharpened his business plan, attracted a handful of investors, acquired a small business loan, and searched for a location. The latter proved more difficult than he initially anticipated. He hit several dead ends when trying to procure city-owned land.
In 2017, he found a rundown meat processing plant in Eastern Market and began the multi-year process of working with the owner to develop a plan to tear it down to build an indoor climbing gym in its place.
“My conviction in pitching this idea was so strong and so well developed despite not having business experience or any experience outside of like the activity itself,” Ruggeri said.
Throughout this process, he worked at REI to build relationships with the local active community and to learn about the retail side of the outdoor industry. Ruggeri also volunteered at the Downtown Boxing Gym in Eastside Detroit, helping young people with their schoolwork, serving as a mentor, and helping operate the treadmill climbing wall they had recently purchased.
By late 2019, construction broke ground. The gym experienced significant delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which Ruggeri navigated with the help of his father, an electrical contractor.
Dyno Detroit officially opened on April 1, 2021.
“It quickly became a way to share this lifestyle with thousands of people,” Ruggeri said, “in a place that really doesn’t have much access to rock climbing or the outdoor lifestyle.”
Now a pillar of Detroit’s Eastern Market, Ruggeri blazes a much different path than the one he expected to travel when he first tried rock climbing as a senior at U-M.
His love for adventure and the outdoors was fostered through the Program in the Environment (PitE) at LSA. His coursework taught him to admire the environment and the world around him.
“It was a true liberal education,” Ruggeri said. “I learned so much about the environment and developed a very deep passion for food.”
During summers, he worked in the nature program at Camp Michigania, where he first discovered his love for sharing the outdoors with others.
Ruggeri earned a bachelor’s in environmental science, specializing in small-scale farming.
“My degree developed my relationship with the outdoor world,” Ruggeri said. “It means so much to me, and I love sharing it. My degree also allowed me to work at Camp Michigania in the summers in the nature program, then go to Colorado to teach skiing, biking, and camping and experience how much the outdoor world contributes to a life well lived.”
He had to acquire the necessary business skills to open his own climbing gym, but his coursework taught him to network, sift through research, identify pertinent information, and navigate uncertain situations. These skills proved vital throughout Ruggeri’s seven-year journey to open Dyno Detroit. Without them, the 31-year-old never could have come to an agreement with a business owner to tear down an existing, dilapidated structure in order to build a climbing facility that he would lease for up to 20 years.
“That’s nothing short of a miracle,” Ruggeri said.
Ruggeri was committed to his vision, no matter how long it took to achieve, in part, because he learned the power of audacious dreams as an undergraduate at U-M.
“It’s a school with limitless potential to help you go wherever you want to go,” Ruggeri said. “There’s so many resources, so much history, and so much networking. The more time I spent there, the more that I loved it and felt incredibly grateful to attend the University.”
Andrew Mentock is a freelance writer based in South Bend, Indiana.