ASK THE GOAT Getting sponsored
Goat: “How can one exist just by doing competitions? How do you break into product sponsorship? How does one become professional athlete?” Ron Sponsored
So, Ron, how does one exist in the athletic sphere? Without some kind of financial viability or support, you simply don't. Hence the importance of self-marketing, product sponsorship and/or being good enough to be picked up for a team.
The life of an athlete is expensive, time-intensive and performance-based. The paradox is this: training requires money but prohibits time to work (or maintain a traditional family). Equipment is high-dollar and wears out fast. Ergo, Jane the accountant does not have enough training time, but has a regular cash flow. John is unemployed and trains 62 hours per week, but can’t afford a pair of much-needed shoes.
So how does one break into product sponsorship? Do you have to? The answer to the second question is “yes” if you want to dedicate yourself exclusively to your sport; and “no” if you are an athletic hobbyist. If you do 3-8 competitions a year because you really enjoy them, and have no desire to quit your job and be an athlete full-time, then you are good without sponsors. But if you truly want to dive in head-first and break the mold, I recommend a little self-promotion.
Photograph every event. Document your training and nutrition. Find brands you truly believe in and get a mid-grade waterproof camcorder to record yourself in action. You can always try personal training or coaching to supplement income and still participate in the things you love –but do not fool yourself into thinking this will couple as “quality training” for you. Myth No. 1 - training others supplements your own training.
What, then, is a pro? You are a professional athlete when you are financially-backed by a sponsor, are on a pro team and have equipment, registration and/or travel costs covered. It is different from being an elite athlete. Elites are top-tier finishers. They are remarkable and capable athletes although few become pros. Many turn down the pro status to remain amateur elites. First you work to become elite. Then you self-market to become pro. Talent is not always enough. It really takes a great deal of charisma as well.
The key is this, dig deep and decide how far you'd be willing to go to become a pro. If you truly can't fathom life without the words “pro” or “team” included, begin now on your athletic portfolio. However, if your ambition includes a career and lots of family interaction, you may want to do some soul-searching and research before committing to the pro path. Talent is a start, but charisma and a solid athletic resume are worth their weight in gold (often measured in medals).
Make the necessary sacrifices to get in your training and remember that in the end, have a backup plan. One misstep, literally, can end it all. I broke my foot in 2010 while trail running and had to take 16 months off before rejoining trails. Injury will always cull the numbers of successful athletes. Good luck hitting the pro circuit.