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Sarafina Nance may have big dreams of going to space, but the idea of being a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model seemed out of this world — at least until now.
The analog astrophysicist and astronaut is a finalist in this year’s SI Swim Search. The Austin, Texas native was chosen from thousands of submissions to be photographed by famed photographer SI Yu Tsai in the Dominican Republic. The winner of the annual cast will become a rookie in issue 2023.
Not a bad achievement for someone who previously insisted she only owned one swimsuit.
But for Nance, it’s an opportunity to share his story globally. She is a BRCA2+ breast cancer survivor who chose to have a preventative double mastectomy at age 26 to reduce her extremely high risk of breast cancer – 87%. After breast reconstruction, Nance stressed the importance of genetic testing, self-checks and preventative medicine.
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Nance spoke to Fox News Digital about what it means to her to appear in this year’s issue, who inspired her to rock a two-piece, and how her parents reacted.
FoxNews: What made you try out for this year’s SI Swim Search?
Sarafina Nance: Everything is linked to my story. I have the BRCA2+ genetic mutation, which puts me at high risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I had a preventative double mastectomy over two years ago to reduce my risk of breast cancer. I shared my journey publicly online and gained an amazing community that supported me along the way.
A friend of mine knew about SI Swim Search and suggested I try it. I never really considered doing something like this, but she really encouraged me. And so I did…the idea of these beautiful empowering women from all different communities coming together to share their stories caught my eye. And that prompted me to apply.
FoxNews: Did you know the magazine before applying?
Nope : 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 until a few years ago that I heard of Allyn Rose. She was the first woman with a mastectomy to appear in the magazine. She is an incredible advocate for members of the breast cancer community. I remembered how beautiful and powerful she was. It really inspired me.
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FoxNews: Deciding to have a preventative double mastectomy is, of course, a difficult choice. How did you feel when your intervention was over?
Nope : You know, I felt so proud of myself. I felt responsible for my decision. Yes, it was an incredibly difficult time. I had three operations in one year. It was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. It impacted every facet of my life. But I made this decision for myself. I remember waking up and feeling extraordinarily proud to be taking charge of my health.
FoxNews: And now you are a finalist in the SI Swim Search. What was your reaction ?
Nope : I was completely amazed. I fell to the ground. Everything was taken from me. I could not believe it. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life. I immediately called my parents and my partner. They were all equally amazed and excited. It was an incredible moment for me.
FoxNews: Tell us about your role as an analog astronaut.
Nope : I am an astrophysicist and analog scientist. I completed an astronaut simulation. I lived as if I was on Mars completing a mission. I hope to use these skills one day and go to space. It’s my dream to go to space… One of the biggest lessons I learned from this experience is that I like being in an environment where I can count on my team and my crew to make research and make a difference.
FoxNews: When people think of an astrophysicist or an analog scientist, some may not instantly think of the “SI swimsuit model”. How do you hope to change this public perception?
Nope : 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 a lot of stereotypes and expectations that come with this identity and this role. I learned the value of representation. I understood the importance of my presence and my voice, not only for myself, but for future generations of women in STEM. I didn’t have that representation growing up. It is my goal to provide this to others.
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I think a platform like SI is so powerful because it shows that women shouldn’t be put in boxes. We don’t have to be just one thing. We can be multi-hyphenate individuals with different interests and different passions. Rather than depriving each other, they can mutually enrich each other. To me, it really speaks to the power of women and what we can achieve, what we can dream of. I hope when someone sees someone like me in the magazine, they’ll be like, “Wow, I don’t have to limit myself. I don’t have to be aware of 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.
FoxNews: As someone who had a preventative double mastectomy, did the magazine embrace you?
Nope : Absolutely. Shooting in the Dominican Republic was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, hands down. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t come from a modeling background. I was afraid of feeling out of place and being embarrassed by my body. But I’ve never felt so empowered and embraced for who I am. I have never felt so supported. I was excited by the entire SI team, the finalists – everyone. They were all so excited and really happy that I was there. My body is different, but I still felt loved and supported.
FoxNews: What was your reaction when you saw these images?
Nope : I was stunned. It’s such an empowering experience to see yourself through that lens. SI is not trying to make you something or someone else. I was so worried the whole time, but the pictures don’t show it. It was a magical experience.
FoxNews: What would it mean to you to win the SI Swim Search?
Nope : 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. They are advocates and leaders in their communities. And I am now part of this group. I think this experience really paved the way for me to share my story like never before. It is a platform where all the beauties and walks of life are presented and celebrated.
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FoxNews: How has the experience changed your life so far?
Nope : For starters, I met an amazing community of people. It’s a brotherhood, one 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.
FoxNews: What do you hope readers will get when they see your photos for the first time?
Nope : You know, I think about when I was growing up. I haven’t seen women like me in science, in magazines, or even on television. I never felt that the performance was there for me. Now I hope people can see themselves in me. I hope they feel encouraged to do what they want. I hope when they see me, they’ll say, “I can do this.” I hope they can achieve their dream, whatever it is. Everything is possible. I did it.