How I Turned Pro (In 5 Steps)

On the left: How I looked seven months prior to earning my Pro Card.
On the right: Earning IFBB Pro Card at the USA Championships.

It may or may not surprise you that one of my dreams as a kid was to be a professional in sports. I think that most kids, especially boys, share this dream. There were a few problems that I realized would keep me from fulfilling this dream. The first was that I have been plagued with severe asthma since I was one year old. I spent a great deal of my childhood in and out of hospitals and on various medications for breathing. Another obstacle that stood in the way of me becoming a professional athlete was that I was a small, skinny kid. My hand-eye coordination was great, and I was fast, but I lacked the mass for football and the endurance for most other sports. In my eighth grade year, I began lifting weights pretty seriously with my father and I was able to gain significant strength. Then, in ninth grade, I made the wrestling team. This sport actually suited me well because I was short and a little stalky. Not long into the season, however, I developed severe back and hip pain. I struggled with this pain for two years, all the while popping ibuprofen like candy.

After I graduated high school, I was misdiagnosed with RA, rheumatoid arthritis. I was prescribed Percocet, Darvocet, and a steroid to keep the pain under control. I nearly became addicted to these compounds. To say that I walked around like a stoned zombie would be accurate. Not only that, I stopped lifting weights. After losing lots of muscle tissue and feeling miserable most of the time, I decided to go back and see a specialist. This time, Holly, my girlfriend at the time and now my wife, went with me. The doctor properly diagnosed with with AS, ankylosing spondylitis, a form of reactive arthritis that attacks the joints and organs. People with this specific disease actually carry a genetic marker, HLA-B27. The recommendation of the doctor was that I stop exercising and begin immunosuppressive drugs along with chemotherapy drugs to lower my immune system and reduce the pain. After hearing this news, along with seeing how sickly the people in the waiting room were, I decided to completely ignore his advice and embark on a journey of health and wellness. No drugs. Lots of weight training and exercise. I would also try to identify foods that were making me feel bad. I knew that most autoimmune diseases are at least exacerbated by poor diets. This led me to becoming a personal trainer and opening my first full-service health club at 24 years old. In 2008 I competed in my first bodybuilding competition. I won my classes as a novice bantamweight and open lightweight. I did two more shows in 2009 and 2010. I won the lightweight class in both of those shows as well.

After 2010, Holly and I decided to focus on the business and start a family. I’m happy to say we have been very blessed with two kids and a successful chain of health clubs. In 2017, my wife Holly decided that she wanted to push herself to do a figure show. I researched a great deal to find her a coach that I thought would be a good fit and she took Holly on as a client. After two weeks of watching Holly’s body transform, I decided that I wanted to test the water again and see if I could make a return to the stage. I reached out to IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Jon De La Rosa, who has long been my favorite bodybuilder after watching him turn pro at the USAs in 2011. Honestly, I was nervous that he wouldn’t take me on as a client because I wasn’t in contest shape and I only had nine weeks to pull it all together. But on April 1st, 2017, after putting in the work and giving it our all, my wife and I competed together at the Governor’s Cup in Sacramento. She took second in her class in her very first show (and many had her winning the show). She look absolutely amazing and I knew that she had a bright future. I also won the lightweight Bodybuilding division and the new Classic Physique (classic bodybuilding) A Class, under 170 lbs. Right away my wife called her coach and told her she wanted to do the NPC USAs, just 13 weeks away! I agreed to continue on with her and compete then as well.

Long story short, Holly got sick and was forced to pull out of the show, but I was able to carry on and earn my Pro Card, becoming a professional athlete. My childhood dream had been fulfilled and the best part was that my kids and coach, (now one of my very best friends) Jon De La Rosa, were present to watch me earn pro status. So how did I do it? A weak, sickly kid with arthritis and asthma?

HOW I TURNED PRO IN FIVE STEPS:

  1. I first assembled a great team around me. I had my wife, kids, parents and my amazing coach. As Jim Collins says in the book Good to Great, “First figure out who belongs on the bus. Your team. Then you can figure out where the bus is going.” I didn’t know I’d be turning pro this year, but I assembled the right team to do so first.
  2. I trusted the people on my team. When push came to shove and I had to cut carbs, change my training style and add more cardio, I didn’t complain. I did the work as prescribed, knowing that my team cared about me and had that best plan for me. This is very difficult for most people and quite frankly, honest, caring coaches who are qualified and hungry to see others do well are very rare. So, I was lucky in a way.
  3. I believed in myself. If there is one trait that I have that has made me successful in any way, it is my capacity for faith, or belief, if you will. I have always had faith in myself, and those around me, that the best possible outcome will happen. I have never doubted my abilities. I don’t consider myself cocky, but I see obstacles as more of a challenge. Having beaten AS and asthma, I love a good challenge. A Napoleon Hill said, everyone has the capacity for faith, but most are using it in reverse gear and getting the things they don’t want in life, the things they fear. I agree. Have faith you can get what you want and then take massive action to get it.
  4. I had a clear vision of exactly what I wanted and desired. Clarity and focus are crucial to achieving anything. I firmly believe that most people don’t know what they want in life so they resign themselves to boring lives of quiet desperation. In the days leading up to the shows this season, I would meditate and read to control my mind and focus it on my outcome. I think that outcome-focused people avoid becoming problem-focused people. The biggest drug in the world isn’t in pill form. It is problems. We become addicted to our problems because we focus on them instead of what we actually want our outcome to be.
  5. I let fate take its course. This may sound counterintuitive considering the previous four steps, but the truth is that some things are outside our control. This is especially true in the bodybuilding world. It’s a subjective sport where opinions matter, not facts. While this may be difficult to handle, the truth is we live in a world where bad things happen to good people, the best don’t always win, and terrible things occur. Paying too much attention to things outside our control is a sure-fire way to depression and dissatisfaction. Instead, as the Stoics believed, I spent all the time and effort I could doing the things that were in my control and I let fate take it from there. That doesn’t mean settle, by the way. I’m simply saying that we should identify what we do have control over and what we don’t, and spend all of our energy on the things we CAN control!

So there it is, my long journey to becoming an IFBB Professional Classic Physique Bodybuilder. If I’m being honest, it’s still a little unreal. I’d like to thank all my family and friends again for their support. I’d like to thank my clubs, Fitness System, for being the best place to train in California. I’d urge anyone looking to have an incredible coach and human being in their life to look at http://www.jondelarosa.com to find out about his services.

And above all, I’d like to thank my wife Holly and kids for sticking with me through this journey. There will be more adventures to come.

In health,

Sean Covell IFBB PRO

Things I Have Done Right In My Life

Like most, I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy focusing on all the things that I’ve messed up in my life. I’ve made incredible mistakes and I’ve made them often. Some believe that failure, specifically failing fast, is the key to greatness. I don’t think that’s always true. Sometimes we don’t know why we fail exactly. We may think it’s one thing and it could be that actually we did multiple things wrong. Therefore, learning from failures is possible, if you know the exact reason why you failed and don’t repeat the mistake. However, I would urge warning about focusing on or celebrating failures. Focusing on what you’ve done wrong can take you into a very dark place and keep you there for a long time, maybe permanently.

So, while it’s possible to learn from failure, I think it’s far more beneficial to take a look at what you’ve done right in your life. Making a list of your victories allows you to see if there are any patterns you can recognize and repeat. It’s also good to remember all that you are capable of and have achieved. Therefore, while I admittedly have been somewhat down after reflecting on all my failures and mistakes, I decided to write out a list of what I have done right. Your list will be very different, but for the purpose of transparency for this exercise, here is what I came up with:

• I married the right woman
• I dedicated myself to her
• I’m obsessed with seeing her grow as a person
• I had children with her
• I’m dedicated to raising a family
• I’ve taken big risks that have paid off
• I’ve read at least two books a month for the last 10 years
• I’ve met new people and treated them well so that my network has grown
• I’ve traveled more than most
• I’ve studied philosophy
• I’ve studied biomechanics and biology and used them to build a business
• I’ve written regularly to keep my communication skills sharp
• I’ve stayed fit most of my life
• I’ve stuck with things even when they were hard
• I’ve quit certain things when I realized they didn’t work for my life
• I’ve kept my mind open to new ideas
• I’ve resolved disagreements quickly
• I’ve reasoned with myself to change my state when needed
• I’ve had confidence that I could make things work
• I’ve enjoyed money, but saved it as well
• I’ve thought of others’ perspectives in business
• I’ve created things that others value
• I’ve kept informed about events that affect me
• I’ve been able to calm my mind when needed
• I’ve been able to produce the energy to get things done
• I’ve been obsessed with learning
• I’ve been a person of character
• I’ve given to others and charity
• I’ve given my wife resources she needs to grow
• I’ve valued her freedom
• I went to college and graduated without debt
• I kept my eye on work while attending college
• I’ve seen the big picture without ignoring details
• I’ve had incredible fun
• I’ve invested money for the future
• I’ve not let myself get too comfortable in life
• I’ve focused on the good more than the bad
• I’ve focused on what I can give rather than what I’m getting
• I’ve cared about others and their needs without forgetting my own
• I didn’t give up when diagnosed with a vicious disease
• I’ve focused on building up my strength

What have you done right? I suggest you make a list of your victories. They will give you fuel and strength to power through the year. Take a few minutes and focus on how awesome you are!

In health,

Sean