Work was too far away for one North Shore native, so he decided to bring his work home.
After interning as a strength and conditioning coach for the New York Yankees during college, Dana Cavalea found himself taking the 4 a.m. train into Manhattan each morning to work at Sports Club/LA in New York City, where Derek Jeter’s trainer told him he could get all celebrity clients.
“I had to take a train out of Ronkonkoma to get to work, and it wasn’t for me,” Cavalea said.
So the Mount Sinai graduate and former ballplayer got down to business, and built one.
In 2014, Cavalea opened ML Strength in Huntington and Inspired by ML Strength in Port Jefferson to try to mimic the success of his first location, which opened in White Plains in 2011, as a training facility that originally catered to professional athletes. It was very exclusive, but Cavalea decided to open the business’s doors once he realized he had a pretty cool concept going.
“Our proprietary mix, what makes it so special that people can’t really get anywhere else, is I basically looked at what I used to do with [professional] athletes: the sports medicine, athletic training department and physical therapy, and the nutrition and recovery part — and I basically extracted that department, and created a consumer model out of it,” he said. “Someone that is not Derek Jeter can go get that level of care in a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment.”
Cavalea was never judged during his rise in the world of training professional athletes, he said.
While attending the University of South Florida to earn a degree in exercise science, at just 19 years old he found himself working as an assistant for the Yankees during spring training.
“I ended up weaving myself into the fabric of the organization,” Cavalea said.
Once an assistant position opened up, Cavalea was brought on board permanently, and just three months into the season, after a pattern of hamstring injuries for players, the head strength coach was fired and Cavalea was moved up.
“When you injure a professional athlete, you can be disabling a $300 million asset. So I come in and I train my staff the same way, to look at our costumers as if they have that dollar value attached to them, because it will force you to give a high level of care.”
— Dana Cavalea
“You’re in your early 20s and it’s like hanging out with the Rolling Stones,” he said. “My Mick Jagger was Derek Jeter and the backup artists were Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, so it was really cool to have that opportunity to work alongside that caliber of talent at such a young age. It showed that age doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean qualified or not qualified.”
Cavalea held that position from 2007-13, when he was not brought back to the team after management said it wanted to go in a different direction. That’s when he took the opportunity to expand his brand, opening up two new locations within a year of each other. The training location in Huntington, at 310 New York Ave., and Inspired in Port Jefferson, at 156 E. Main Street, which focuses more on rehabilitation, weight loss, strength improvement and pain relief, instead of just catering to training athletes.
“Unfortunately the fitness world can be misleading,” Inspired manager Caroline Silva said in an interview. “The educational part of it is huge. Athletes want to go far but don’t have a good foundation, or so many adults that want to keep active but give up because their knee hurts, so the educational part is huge and that’s how Inspired has inspired me. And Dana wants every little town to have that.”
That’s the bigger picture for Cavalea: To continue to bring on more physical therapy and exercise science professionals, like Silva, who played European handball and danced contemporary and jazz in Brazil, and expand the brand profile coast to coast, so that each town can have its own ML Strength or Inspired.
“We get a lot of athletes from Mount Sinai that come here injured, and it’s fun to be able to help them achieve their goals and create a place that I didn’t have,” Cavalea said of giving back to his community. “I didn’t have this and I needed something like this when I tore my hamstring as a high school athlete. It hindered my play through high school and through college, so if I had something like this, it would’ve truly helped me.”
The experience at Inspired can be described as “full service.”
Clients walk are greeted by name when they enter, put on a table to be stretched, massaged and to receive acupuncture. Next comes strength, conditioning and weight training, followed by more stretching and a visit to the complimentary sauna before leaving. The program is also tailored to the individual. Inspired offers yoga classes, and all training is done with a maximum of 15 people, because Cavalea wants to keep it personal.
“You lose the why behind what you’re doing,” he said of a larger group setting. “What I did with these guys for so many years was so personal. You had to know everything about them, learn every nuance and issue that they have and when you miss something, that’s when risk creeps up and you can really hurt somebody. When you injure a professional athlete, you can be disabling a $300 million asset. So I come in and I train my staff the same way, to look at our costumers as if they have that dollar value attached to them, because it will force you to give a high level of care.”
Silva said clients are treated like they’re the pros, too.
“We have things that athletes use like the recovery boot, they come and they use and feel like the pros, and get treated like them too,” she said. “It makes them feel special and gives them motivation to keep going.”
Cavalea has helped patients at Inspired regain mobility in their arms, gain strength to walk up and down stairs again, and said just recently he helped a foot-and-ankle doctor regain mobility after a total right knee replacement. He said the doctor just hiked the Alps in Europe for eight consecutive days.
“I always wanted to create a brand that stands for something,” he said. “This has allowed me to train in health, wellness and fitness in a way that all people can benefit from.”