You want it so bad it is making you ill. Your whole reason for living, for waking up in the morning, for going to work, is just a means to an end. You need it because it completes you. All of your woes will disappear if you had it. Having it will entitle you to the respect and admiration of the masses.
What am I talking about? The Pro Card.
Don’t be embarrassed – a lot of people who want it have no idea what it even is or does. A lot budding bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts don’t know what a pro card is. I remember when I didn’t know what a pro card was. In fact, it wasn’t until after my second show that I actually understood what a pro card was and how I could get one. But I wanted one nonetheless.
A pro card is a small business type card that verifies you are, in fact, awesome. It is forged from the blood, sweat, and tears of countless workouts; the grueling sets, infinite reps, and shattered PRs. It is the A plus on your math final, the meatball on your spaghetti, and the cherry on your sundae. With it, you are invincible.
A pro card is awarded to a competitor as validation that they have proven themselves to be masters in their field. Pro cards are typically awarded to the overall winner of a competition. A standard show will be broken into classes, either by weight or height. A winner is chosen amongst each class. These winners then battle it out against each other – tall against short, heavy against light, for the glory of professional status within that specific federation or organization in which they are competing.
Sometimes, but not all, multiple pro cards will be up for grabs. The NGA for example, the organization to which I am a professional, only requires that you win your open class, providing there are at least five competitors. An open class is just that, open to anybody that want’s to compete in it – as opposed to competing in a novice class. Novice classes are ineligible for pro card consideration however, a novice competitor is allowed to enter an open class and potentially win it.
Allow me to share a story. I competed in the 2011 NGA Heart of America Natural Classic. I entered both the novice and open classes. I won first in my class (lightweight) in novice, overall novice, and then moved forward to take first in the open lightweight class. My first place win as a lightweight novice did not guarantee me a pro card, nor did my overall novice win. My first place win in the open short class was a win worthy of a pro card – but of course, there was a catch. There were only four competitors.
This is where I met NGA Pro Jason Kaiman. Jason was already a pro at this time, but he was not competing on a professional level. We ended up jumping on stage together for the overall win, which was my second chance to grab a pro card, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me that day. I was approached by Jason and he invited me to attend his show, the Titan Classic, for another chance at a pro card. To make a long story short, several months later I made my way to Des Moines, stole the show, and left with a pro card.
Once you earn a pro card, you have a few options regarding how to move forward with your competitive career. You are not actually a “professional” after winning a pro card. The win allows you to apply for professional membership. You don’t need to activate the card, however, if you do not compete within two years of the win you lose eligibility to apply for professional membership and you must win it again. The same applies if the card is activated – you are expected to compete at a professional level at least once every two years.
Once activated, you are now eligible to compete on a professional level against other professionals. This means you can now compete for money! This is where you want to be careful. Once you start competing at a professional level, you can’t turn back. The standard is typically set that once you win money at a professional show, you are no longer eligible to compete on an amateur level.
So, let’s say you decide to activate the pro card and start competing professionally. You do well and you earn a little bit of money on the side. What next? Surely, fame and fortune must follow?! Not really. How far you go from here is really up to you, but be prepared to work even harder. You have just become member of a club where everybody wants to be the next bright shining star, most of whom are already extremely qualified to fill this position.
If you haven’t already by this point, you are going to want to put together some sort of portfolio of your bodybuilding accomplishments. There is no format to follow, just start piecing together your journey so an outsider can really get an appreciation for how far you have come. Prepare a competitive resume, print pictures, clip articles, for example. Keep this handy because you never know when the need for it will arise. Opportunity may only knock once, be ready when it does.
The portfolio is especially helpful when trying to secure sponsorship. Sponsorship is probably the most highly sought after component of bodybuilding, next to the pro card. Everybody wants to be sponsored and everybody thinks they have what it takes. What you need to ask yourself is “what makes me better than the next guy? Why am I special? What can I bring to the table?” You are going to have to learn how to market yourself, because supplement companies and other key players in the fitness industry have heard it all before. You don’t need a pro card to be sponsored – sponsorship is at the discretion of the sponsor, so read on!
Now get to writing. Send letters, emails, and photos. Get to know the store owners and managers of your local health and fitness stores. Prepare a plan of attack – how are you going to ask somebody for free stuff? My basic approach was to introduce myself (in person if local), and then briefly explain that I was a professional drug tested bodybuilder seeking sponsorship to further my bodybuilding career. I would then provide a letter that detailed my story, competitive history, goals, and expectations. I would also emphasize what it was that I planned to do in return. Remember, nothing is really free. I also included a signed photograph. It’s a great sign of confidence.
Don’t expect sponsorship to be what you see in the magazines. If sponsorship is secured, it will most likely be limited and will come with limited exposure. Typically, sponsorship with a supplement company resembles a sale representative or marketing position in which you are paid in supplements. You will most likely be required to promote a specific brand and fulfill several requirements to earn your product. Sponsorship may not even be for free items. Sponsorship can also come in the form of cash (usually an allowance towards a show or training), services (tanning, massages), or simple preferred discounts (grocery stores, supplement stores, meat suppliers).
I really can’t offer any advice on where to go from here or what should happen next. In my experience with it all, I am finding that little surprises are hiding behind every corner. I continue to compete and remain as active as I can in the fitness community. The more active you are, the more your name will become commonplace. I also had some business cards created to hand out when I do supplement demonstrations, or when people ask me for advice at the gym.
Slowly but surely, I feel myself continuing to grow as a person, as a bodybuilder, and as a representative for the amazing world of natural bodybuilding. The opportunities and rewards created by this column alone are immeasurable. Just adopt the mentality that anything is possible. You will find that you are capable of a lot more than you could ever imagine.
In the pursuit of everlasting greatness, you will probably find yourself still wanting more, even after making it this far. That’s the curse of being human, I suppose. We’re never really satisfied. This is probably because of the emphasis and value we place on irrelevant things and the effort required to obtain them.
So where am I going with this? Prepare to have your mind blown and your socks knocked off:
You don’t need a pro card to be great.
That’s right, you don’t need it. At least, not in the sense that you need a driver’s license, or a marriage license, or mortgage pre-approval. You already have the tools required to be a star. I thought I needed the pro card to get where I wanted to be (much like my college degree, I find it played little to no role in my success!). I was so blinded by the glory I had placed on the pro card that I fought tooth and nail to get it. Sure, I’m extremely proud of my accomplishment, but realizing that I am not defined by my pro card is an even bigger accomplishment.
“If I am what I have, and if I lose what I have, who then am I?”
Don’t let the little things get in the way of the big picture. Re-evaluate your priorities and your own potential for greatness. What you will find is that the A plus on the math final, the meatball on your spaghetti, and the cherry on your sundae, are really nothing more than a corner square of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.