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Sarafina Nance may have big dreams of heading to space, but the idea of being a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model seemed out of this world – at least until now.
The astrophysicist and analog astronaut is a finalist in this year’s SI Swim Search. The Austin, Texas, native was chosen among thousands of submissions to be photographed by acclaimed SI photographer Yu Tsai in the Dominican Republic. The winner of the annual casting call will become a rookie in the 2023 issue.
Not a bad accomplishment for someone who previously insisted she only owns one bathing suit.
But for Nance, it’s an opportunity to share her story globally. She is a BRCA2+ breast cancer survivor who chose to have a preventive double mastectomy at age 26 to lower her extremely high risk of breast cancer – 87%. Following breast reconstruction, Nance has been vocal about the importance of genetic testing, self-checks and preventive medicine.
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Nance spoke to Fox News Digital about what it means for her to appear in this year’s issue, who inspired her to rock a two-piece and how her parents reacted.
Fox News: What compelled you to try out for this year’s SI Swim Search?
Sarafina Nance: It all ties into my story. I have the BRCA2+ genetic mutation, which puts me at high risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I had a preventive double mastectomy over two years ago to reduce my risk of breast cancer. I was sharing my journey publicly online and I gained an amazing community that supported me along the way.
One of my friends knew about the SI Swim Search and suggested that I should try it. I’ve never really considered doing something like this, but she really encouraged me. And I did… the idea of these beautiful, empowering women from all different communities coming together to share their stories drew my attention. And that compelled me to apply.
Fox News: Were you familiar with the magazine before applying?
Nance: I didn’t know too much about SI growing up. Of course, I saw the magazines. They were at my local Barnes & Noble and newsstands. But it wasn’t up until a few years ago that I heard about Allyn Rose. She was the first woman with a mastectomy to appear in the magazine. She’s an incredible advocate for members of the breast cancer community. I remembered how beautiful and empowering she looked. It really inspired me.
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Fox News: Deciding to have a preventive double mastectomy is, needless to say, a difficult choice. How did you feel once your procedure was over?
Nance: You know, I felt so proud of myself. I felt empowered about my decision. Yes, it was an incredibly difficult time. I had three surgeries in one year. It was physically draining, mentally draining and emotionally draining. It impacted every facet of my life. But I made this decision for myself. I remember waking up and just feeling extraordinarily proud of taking charge of my health.
Fox News: And now you’re a finalist in the SI Swim Search. What was your reaction?
Nance: I was completely amazed. I fell to the ground. Everything was taken out of me. I couldn’t believe it. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I immediately called my parents and my partner. They were all just as stunned and excited. It was an incredible moment for me.
Fox News: Tell us about your role as an analog astronaut.
Nance: I’m an astrophysicist and analog scientist. I completed an astronaut simulation. I lived as though I were on Mars completing a mission. I’m hopeful to use those skills one day and go to space. It’s my dream to go to space… One of my biggest takeaways from that experience is that I love being in an environment where I can rely on my team and my crew to do research and make a difference.
Fox News: When people think of an astrophysicist or analog scientist, some may not instantly think “SI Swimsuit model.” How do you hope to change that public perception?
Nance: One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome specifically in STEM is overcoming the feeling of not fitting in. I’m not just a woman, but I’m a woman of color in a predominantly White male space. There are lots of stereotypes and expectations that come along with that identity and that role. I have learned the value of representation. I’ve understood the importance of my presence and being vocal, not just for myself, but for future generations of women in STEM. I didn’t have that representation growing up. It’s my goal to provide that for others.
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I think a platform like SI is so powerful because it shows that women don’t have to be put into boxes. We don’t have to be just one thing. We can be multi-hyphenate individuals with different interests and different passions. Rather than taking away from each other, they can augment each other. To me, that truly speaks to the power of women and what we can achieve, what we can dream. I hope that when someone sees someone like me in the magazine, they’ll go, “Wow, I don’t have to limit myself. I don’t have to fall privy to people’s expectations because they think I should be a certain way or act a certain way. I can be whatever I want to be.”
Fox News: Even someone with a preventive double mastectomy, has the magazine embraced you?
Nance: Absolutely. My shoot in the Dominican Republic was one of the most powerful experiences in my life, hands down. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t come from a modeling background. I was worried about feeling out of place and self-conscious about my body. But I’ve never felt so empowered and embraced for who I am. I’ve never felt so supportive. I was hyped up by the entire SI team, the finalists – everyone. They were all so excited and genuinely happy that I was there. My body is different, but I still felt loved and supported.
Fox News: What was your reaction when you saw those images?
Nance: I was stunned. It’s such an empowering experience to see yourself through that lens. SI doesn’t try to make you be anything or anyone else. I was so worried the entire time, but the photos don’t show that. It was a magical experience.
Fox News: What would it mean for you to win the SI Swim Search?
Nance: I don’t even have the words *laughs*. It would be an incredible honor. It’s already an honor, whether I win or not. One of the most exciting parts of this whole process was getting the chance to go to the Dominican Republic and meet all of these amazing women. These are advocates and leaders in their communities. And I’m now a part of that group. I think this experience has really paved the way for me to share my story like never before. This is a platform where all beauties and backgrounds are showcased and celebrated.
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Fox News: How has the experience changed your life so far?
Nance: For starters, I’ve met an incredible community of people. It’s a sisterhood, one that I’m grateful for. They immediately changed my life. One of the girls and I have become incredibly close. It’s so exciting to have these conversations about our experiences and how we hope to change the world. That alone has been invaluable.
Fox News: What do you hope readers will get when they see your photos for the first time?
Nance: You know, I think about when I was growing up. I didn’t see women like me in science, in magazines, or even on TV. I never felt that the representation was there for me. Now, I hope people can see themselves in me. I hope they feel encouraged to do whatever they desire. I hope when they see me, they’ll go, “I can do that.” I hope they can achieve whatever their dream is. It’s all possible. I know it.