Though she’s quite intelligent, Carol Nalevanko appears to think there are only 25 letters in the alphabet because she always leaves out the “I.” No matter how many times she is asked about herself and her many accomplishments as president of DMB Sports Clubs, she deflects credit or praise and talks about her team.
It’s more than just humility, it’s her management philosophy and it has led to four decades of success as she and her staff of more than 900 employees have built a health club business model that is envied by the fitness industry countrywide.
“Anyone can lease buildings and fill them with workout equipment and recreational amenities, but The Village Health Clubs are about a culture of family and friends,” Nalevanko says. “We focus on the human connection.”
It obviously is working, as the four Valley club locations grow continuously and their members seldom leave. While the national average for fitness membership retention is 64 percent, the Village boasts 80 percent and many who belong are charter members.
“It’s all about our people as we’re in this together and the ultimate results are friendships,” says Nalevanko, “As you can leave a treadmill, but you can’t leave a friend.”
Nalevanko migrated to Phoenix after graduating from the University of South Dakota with a degree in Recreation Management. She and a handful of sorority friends sought warmer weather and job opportunities and she quickly found both in Arizona. Her first job was with the Metro Sport & Health Club as an activities director.
“I grew up all over the world as my dad was in the Air Force and so it felt good to finally put down roots and stay in one place.” She and her husband, Richard, live in the Arcadia neighborhood and have no plans of ever leaving.
“Arcadia and the Camelback Village have grown up together over the years. The neighborhood resembles the club because they are both gathering places and knitted together by multiple generations of families.”
Nalevanko’s formula for instilling a sense of “family” at each of the Villages is to be sure everyone knows one another. “Employees must know employees, members need to know their fellow members, and of course employees have to know each and every one of our 25,000 members.”
When Nalevanko isn’t working, she is likely pursuing her passion for high adventure. In the past, those have included hiking the Inca Trail, sleeping in a hammock deep in the Amazon jungle, and running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. When she isn’t running, she is walking… more precisely, the Camino Walk that took her from Portugal to Santiago, Spain, over a 167-mile course that spanned 10 days.
“I like to avoid the fancy-schmancy places,” she says. “Traveling off the beaten path is so much more fun.”
Little wonder then that Nalevanko says the best gift she has ever received is her good health. “Well, and also a cool putter from my husband. He got off easy as I’m not much into diamonds.”
An appropriate title for her autobiography? Unsurprisingly she offers, “We did this together!”