Great article, congrats Peter! By Jamie Jones NorthWest Georgia News His friends thought he was crazy. His parents did, too. But some 10 years ago, Dalton native Peter Putnam had the dream â and the drive â to seek to become a professional bodybuilder. After years of training, Putnam finally has realized his goal that he has worked so hard for. Last weekend in Atlanta, the 32-year-old Putnam beat out 41 other participants in the light heavyweight division at the NPC National Bodybuilding and Figure Championships to earn his International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) professional status. Putnam weighed in at 198.25 lbs just making the cut. He compares winning the pro card to making the National Football League. Being in Atlanta had extra meaning since the city was the site of his first bodybuilding competition in 1998 and near his hometown. "It was very symbolic to me knowing that I was returning to the stage where it all began," said Putnam, who now resides in Knoxville, Tenn. "That's where my bodybuilding career was birthed. It all began in Atlanta. It was important to me to go out and earn the pro card knowing I had so many friends, family and peers in attendance watching." Putnam was also given the inaugural "Steve Stone Heart of a Champion Award," named in honor of the late NPC vice chairman who died while working backstage during the 2008 Olympia. The award represnts character and sportsmen ship. Putnam's pursuit of that elusive pro card took a long and winding path. In 2006, he was the runner-up in the light-heavyweight class at the NPC USA Championships. One year later, he won his class at the USAs and finished second at the Nationals both time narrowly missing earn his pro status. Becoming a professional bodybuilder has extra meaning. His wife, Jessica, also has an IFBB pro. Putnam said he definitely felt the pressure before taking the stage has one of the favorites going into the show. Putnam, a Weider athlete (Weider is known as one of the sport's founders and publishes bodybuilding magazines "Flex" and "Muscle & Fitness" â publications Putnam has graced the covers of). He was now close to earning a pro card. Borrowing a metaphor from another sport, Putnam said he "had one pitch, one swing to hit a home run." After graduating Dalton High School in 1995, Putnam, like many of his classmates, went to college. He began at the University of Alabama ,but left Tuscaloosa after two years and returned home. Always an active athlete, Putnam played several sports as a child and teenager. He excelled on the football field at Dalton High leading 15-1 team in rushing, and playing his final game in the state semifinals in the Georgia Dome in 1994. He had a thought to pursue football following offers upon graduation and later as a walk-on at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Then a funny thing happened. At the age of 21 while training to walk on at UTC, he got hooked on bodybuilding, even though he had never picked up a bodybuilding magazine before. His weightlifting regimen had consisted of several old school moves designed to gain strength on the football field. He always thought Arnold Schwarzenegger was just an action movie star. Putnam had no clue he was a seven-time Mr. Olympia, the zenith of the bodybuilding world. Putnam eventually moved to Atlanta and learned the sport from anywhere he could: magazines, picking the brains of other bodybuilders, most notably eight-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney. He slowly learned the intricacies of the sport and built his body. His workout routine at times has consisted of up to two weight training sessions a day while preparing for a show, followed by an hour of cardiovascular exercise. He follows a strict diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, but admits he's been known to sneak in a few Reese's Pieces or almonds covered in dark chocolate following a show. The 16 weeks of training before the latest Atlanta competition were intense. He knew those four months would culminate in only about 10 to 15 minutes on stage. There were nerves. There was excitement. And after he won the pro card, there were tears. Putnam hopes professional status lends credibility to the brand he's trying to build. Nicknamed "Pump," he hopes to continue to work towards more opportunities in the bodybuilding world and also outside of it. He appeared on a recent episode of the MTV reality show "Made" and coached a frumpy teenager to a bodybuilding competition in only eight weeks. Putnam is already sponsored by Weider and currently fielding offers from a handful of supplement companies. More competitions, more appearances â where Putnam can compete for money â are on the horizon. "The mainstream opportunities are there for bodybuilders," Putnam said. "As a bodybuilder we're often typecast and stereotyped. But to be honest, the average bodybuilder should be one of the sharpest athletes you'll ever meet if they understand the entertainment business as well, much like professional wrestling, you have to know how to create your own brand and sell yourself. Quite often you have to do your own PR work." Putnam is sometimes very humbled by the exposure, such as when he walks through a mall and people come up to talk with him or the times he's seen himself on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine, or he receives an e-mail from a fan in Kenya, Germany, Australia. He says he hasn't forgotten the lessons he learned from his hometown: stay grounded, work. He's not afraid to chase his dreams. He returned to Dalton for the Thanksgiving holidays to spend time with his family. But also to catch up with the town where his bodybuilding career began on his way to becoming a professional bodybuilder. "My hometown is very much a part of who I am today," Putnam said. Now, a professional bodybuilder. Putnam is the first person from North Georgia to have have ever achieved that honor.