A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE: PB & YMCA tie the community fitness knot


In the predawn hours of April 18, students from Pacific Beach Middle School rubbed their tired eyes and gathered for a morning workout. Their physical education teacher, Dennis Gildenhaus, got them ready for the morning workout, even though class wasn’t in session. Executive manager of the Beach and Bay YMCA, Mike Roberts, oversaw the instruction, as TV crews set up to record the event.

Just before 7 a.m. KUSI initiated a live broadcast with reporter Elizabeth Alvarez working out with the students in the new outdoor community facility, courtesy of the YMCA. Alvarez and another student pushed weighted sleds across the turf grounds. As she huffed and puffed, PB middle-schoolers were diligently working out in the facility that resembles an outdoor CrossFit more than a gym.

The demonstration for the press was a precursor to a much bigger event happening later in the afternoon, when the YMCA and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) solidified their relationship in a ceremony at PB Middle School. Having previously broken ground, and having a number of projects already completed, it didn’t seem appropriate to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony, so they made their bond official by holding a symbolic ribbon-tying ceremony.

Just before dusk, long after the camera crews left, San Diego YMCA President/CEO Baron Herdelin-Doherty stood on the site and spoke with PB Middle School Principal Kimberly Meng and PB Middle School student Jade Muckler. Together, they and others, tied a ribbon that expressed the tightness of their union — something Pacific Beach residents of every generation stand to benefit from.

“I was there at 4:15 a.m.,” said Roberts. “If I’m being stereotypical, the odds of getting middle-schoolers up that early are slim to none. But we got 30 kids, and their physical education teacher showed up, too. That says a lot about the partnership we have and the way it’s going to move forward.”

Project roots

The Beach and Bay YMCA started in a small office in an old, all-but-abandoned building on the corner of Ingraham and Feldspar streets on the grounds of PB Middle School. From there, Roberts and a dedicated team of educators, administrators, fund raisers and community activists created the framework for what will eventually become a $17 million family fitness facility in Pacific Beach — complete with a swimming pool.

With its extremely humble beginnings, the Beach and Bay YMCA has already accomplished so much. By partnering with PB Middle School in their efforts, they’ve managed to touch many lives and have an immediate community impact. Generations, young and old, are now taking advantage of fitness classes offered on the same grounds where students are receiving their physical education.

The facility is named the Joseph Alex Himmelberg Outdoor Fitness Center, after a San Diegan whose dedication to fitness and an active life was relentless. The unique center was designed by Mario Scade of Aire Fitness. His model is a boxcar that serves as a shelter for the equipment. The boxcar is the one and only structure, because who needs a gym when you have San Diego?

The all-outdoor facility allows people to exercise while they gleam in the Southern California sun.

“It’s not a regular Y where you have arm curls and bench press,” Roberts explained. “It’s all equipment you can use to do various exercises, and people love the outdoor setting.” The community resource provides battle ropes, sleds, hurtles, small hand-weights, stationary bikes, resistance bands and a whole galaxy of pieces with creative uses.

Building expansion funds

The last time PB Monthly checked in with the Beach and Bay YMCA, it was just getting started in the fundraising goal of $17 million for the new state-of-the-art facility and school upgrades. Roberts said they’re about a quarter of the way there, and things are looking up.

“A benefit of opening the outdoor fitness center is that a lot more people know we’re here and they’re offering to help,” Roberts said. “It’s not a quick process, and it’s not easy to say we need a couple million dollars. The community needs to see what we do and hear about our mission.”

If all goes according to plan, on June 1, Mario Scale will debut what might be San Diego’s first Padel Tennis court on the grounds. Padel Tennis is all the rage in Europe and South America, and something akin to Scale’s Spanish roots. It combines a tennis court with the walls of a racquetball court, and paddles that look like they’re made for pickle ball.

It’s a sport that fits right in with the Beach and Bay Y’s different approach to fitness, where being limber and strong is preferred over being muscle-bound. That certainly opens the door to more fitness opportunities for a lot of different people.

—Beach and Bay Family YMCA is at 4606 Ingraham St. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Monthly membership fees start at $37 for teens, $42 for seniors (65-plus), and $48 for adults. Family rates depend on size. (858) 273-9622.

WANT TO MAKE A DONATION? Find the link for monetary gifts to fund the forthcoming $17 million facility at or call (858) 273-9622.