By Victoria Martinez
Youth Empowered can be a deceiving name to those to come across the Solvang gym. Despite its primary focus on helping young people, Youth Empowered has built a reputation as a family-friendly facility that welcomes all ages to train in sports such as wrestling, boxing, kickboxing, self-defense, power lifting and mixed martial arts.
Gym owner Chantalle Castellanos began her fitness journey at a young age. She started learning martial arts 4 years old and was boxing by 15. Her mom Lynne spent years traveling with Chantalle as she competed while instilling in her daughter a sense of community and the need to make a positive impact in the world.
Chantalle and her mom have continued to instill those values in the youth who walk through their gym doors every day since its opening in 2013.
After high school at Dunn and then college, Chantalle moved away from the valley for her job with the Juvenile Parole Board of California. While in Sacramento, she met pro MMA fighter Omar Sandoval as she trained to also go pro.
While Chantalle was away from the valley, Lynne took up boxing and power lifting at the age of 50. Though Chantalle was surprised with her mom’s new hobby, she embraced her involvement in the fitness world and when she moved back to the valley with Omar, after having their first child, the three embarked on the adventure of opening their own gym, Youth Empowered, with a focus on three areas: In the gym, in the classroom, and in the community.
The gym offers a variety of fitness classes throughout the week for ages three to adult. Their youth program offers both recreational and competitive classes in boxing and wrestling. Lynne runs the Little Superheroes class for ages three to six where kids focus on learning teamwork and physical fitness at an age-appropriate level. At age seven, kids can participate in the Youth Fitness Boxing class where skills for boxing and life are blended together, often impacting even the most difficult children.
“It’s really cool to see the change,” Lynne said.
As students grow in their skills, they have the chance to compete. The gym also is home to Central Coast Wrestling Academy. Many wrestlers from Santa Ynez Union High School’s wrestling team are a part of the competitive wrestling club.
“The wrestling program has grown tremendously,” Chantalle said.
Three of the team’s wrestlers are competing at nationals this summer.
They gym’s PrettySTRONG powerlifting program has also grown tremendously. Lynne is taking 12 competitors to Las Vegas for nationals in September. The name PrettySTRONG came from one of Lynne’s former students who persevered after she was encouraged to keep working hard.
“It’s a message to young women that you can be pretty and strong,” Chantalle said.
PrettySTRONG has, however, turned into a coed class.
What the coaches are most proud of is the strong community they have built beyond the mat or the ring. Lynne heads up Tutor Hall at a neighboring building from 3:30 to 8 p.m. most days for students to work on their academic responsibilities while under the supervision of the gym. The gym has also partnered with the United Boys & Girls Club in Lompoc to provide classes both in Lompoc and at the gym each week.
And they’ve created a space where kids in the valley always have a place to go.
“We are in the business of building relationships and community as much as the other parts of the business,” Chantalle said.
Something the coaches also keep at the forefront of what they are doing is giving back to the community beyond their gym walls. They’ve partnered with Santa Barbara-based Angels Bearing Gifts on numerous occasions to fulfill wish lists for developmentally disabled adults and writing Valentine’s Day cards.
With the variety of classes and programs offered at the gym, it’s difficult for the coaches to describe everything they do. Their passion, however, is obvious and their commitment to their gym members, from the toddlers to the seniors, is unmatched. Their hard work has translated to a close-knit community that functions as beneficial resource for the valley and beyond.
“The valley is too small to try and shine separately,” Omar said.
Youth Empowered is at 320 Alisal Road, Suite 106. For more information, call 819-1407, email YouthEmpoweredSY@gmail.com, or visit them on Facebook.