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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 astrophysicist and analog 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 acclaimed SI photographer Yu Tsai in the Dominican Republic. The winner of the annual casting will become a rookie in the 2023 edition.
Not a bad achievement for someone who previously insisted she only owns a swimsuit.
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 reduce her extremely high risk of breast cancer: 87%. Following breast reconstruction, Nance has spoken about the importance of genetic testing, self-monitoring, and preventive medicine.
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Nance spoke with Fox News Digital about what it means to her to appear in this year’s edition, who inspired her to wear two pieces and how her parents reacted.
FoxNews: What prompted you to participate in this year’s SI Swim Search?
Sarafina Nance: Everything relates to my story. I have the BRCA2+ genetic mutation, which puts me at high risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I had a preventive double mastectomy more than two years ago to reduce my risk of breast cancer. I was sharing my journey publicly online and gained an amazing community that supported me along the way.
One of my friends knew about SI Swim Search and suggested I give it a try. She had never really considered doing something like this, but she really encouraged me. And I did… I was struck by the idea of these beautiful and empowering women from all different communities coming together to share their stories. And that forced me to apply.
FoxNews: Were you familiar with the magazine before applying?
Fagot: I didn’t know 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 about 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 empowering she looked. She really inspired me.
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FoxNews: Deciding to have a preventive double mastectomy is, of course, a difficult choice. How did you feel once your procedure was over?
Fagot: You know, I felt so proud of myself. I felt empowered with my decision. Yes, it was an incredibly difficult time. I had three surgeries in one year. It was physically exhausting, mentally exhausting, 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 take charge of my health.
FoxNews: And now you’re a finalist in SI Swim Search. What was your reaction?
Fagot: I was completely amazed. I fell to the floor. They took everything 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. Everyone was just as stunned and excited. It was an amazing moment for me.
FoxNews: Tell us about your role as an analog astronaut.
Fagot: 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 one day use those abilities and go to space. My dream is to go to space… One of the biggest learnings from that experience is that I love being in an environment where I can trust my team and crew to investigate and make a difference.
FoxNews: When people think of an analog astrophysicist or scientist, some may not instantly think of “SI swimsuit model”. How do you hope to change that public perception?
Fagot: One of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome specifically in STEM is overcoming the feeling of not fitting in. I am not just a woman, but a woman of color in a predominantly white male space. There are a lot of stereotypes and expectations that come with that identity and that role. I have learned the value of representation. I have understood the importance of my presence and being vocal, not only for myself, but for future generations of women in STEM. I didn’t have that representation growing up. My goal is to provide that to others.
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I think a platform like SI is so powerful because it shows that women don’t have to be pigeonholed. We don’t have to be one thing. We can be multi-hyphenated individuals, with different interests and different passions. Instead of subtracting from each other, they can increase each other. To me, that really speaks to the power of women and what we can achieve, what we can dream of. I hope that when someone sees someone like me in the magazine, they say, “Wow, I don’t have to limit myself. I don’t have to keep up with people’s expectations because they think I have to be a certain way.” or act in a certain way. I can be whatever I want to be.”
FoxNews: As someone with a preventive double mastectomy, has the magazine accepted it?
Fagot: Absolutely. My shoot in the Dominican Republic was one of the most powerful experiences of my life, without a doubt. I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t come from a modeling background. I worried about feeling out of place and self-conscious about my body. But I have never felt so empowered and accepted for who I am. I have never felt so supportive. I was excited about the entire SI team, the finalists, everyone. Everyone was so excited and genuinely happy that I was there. My body is different, but I still feel loved and supported.
FoxNews: What was your reaction when you saw those images?
Fagot: I was stunned. It is such an enriching experience to see yourself through that lens. SI does not try to be anything or anyone else. I was very worried the whole time, but the photos don’t show that. It was a magical experience.
FoxNews: What would winning the SI Swim Search mean to you?
Fagot: I don’t even have the words *laughs*. It would be an incredible honor. It’s already an honor, win or not. One of the most exciting parts of this whole process was having the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic and meet all these amazing women. These are advocates and leaders in their communities. And now I am 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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FoxNews: How has the experience changed your life so far?
Fagot: For starters, I have met an amazing community of people. It’s a sisterhood, one I’m grateful for. They immediately changed my life. One of the girls and I have become incredibly close. It’s very 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?
Fagot: You know, I think back to when I was growing up. I didn’t see women like me in science, in magazines or even on TV. I never felt that representation was there for me. Now, I hope that people can see themselves reflected in me. I hope you feel encouraged to do what you want. I hope that when they see me, they say, “I can do that.” I hope you can achieve whatever your dream is. Everything is possible. I did it.