When Ravens Cheerleader Summer Wilson's friend sent her a message that she should enter the contest to be in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, she scoffed.
"I was like, 'Girl, I'm 30 years old. I think my time might have come and gone,'" Wilson said. "And then I thought about it and was like, 'Why the hell not? Why wouldn't I do this? If not now, then when?'"
Of course, 30 years old isn't old. But the modeling world isn't typically very real world.
Sports Illustrated Swimsuit is trying to change that with its model search this year, in which it posted a virtual open casting call amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Last summer, SI asked applicants to submit a photo and 60-second video of themselves.
This week, after many months of mystery, they revealed their top 15. They each will have an SI photo shoot and six will be chosen to appear in the prestigious Swimsuit Edition.
Besides Wilson, there is the first-ever male model and 13 other women who represent a range of races, body types, backgrounds and ages. There's actually two women from Baltimore (women's lacrosse player/fitness instructor Alex Aust is the other).
Wilson, whose full-time job is in medical sales, is still blown away that she's among them.
"I don't think I've processed that it's actually happened," she said. "They did a really great job to make sure it's super inclusive. I think that's huge and something that the industry hasn't always done. That was half the reason why I wanted to do it in the first place. It's more about the person and what they do and what they represent than just what they look like."
A North Carolina native who moved to Baltimore seven years ago, Wilson had done some boutique modeling but had never professionally posed in a bikini before. Like many people, the pandemic made her re-evaluate. She had long dreamed of a more creative outlet and this seemed like an open door to explore.
Much of the past year has been presenting herself on Instagram (you can follow her here). She became part of a large mostly female online community that helped uplift each other and their followers.
"I just thought this is a really cool opportunity to create my own brand that's inspiring to people," Wilson said. "Get freaking fired up about whatever you're doing and persistence pays off. It's totally OK to be yourself, laugh at yourself, to not be in a filter – to be perfectly you because nobody is perfect."
Wilson cheered for the Ravens for five years (2016-2020), and while she "wouldn't trade it for the world" she recently decided to retire from cheering. Just a few days later, she got the call that she had made SI's top 15.
"It shaped and molded me – my coaches, my mentors, the staff, the organization – I just learned so much from cheering there," Wilson said. "It was just amazing experiences. I just don't think any other organization is like the Ravens."
Wilson remembers being the cheerleader who would always tell her teammates to get "emotionally krunked." Now she's more charged up than ever with big goals like a talk show or podcast in her sights. Wilson doesn't know when SI's final announcement will be made, but she's enjoying the ride.
"It's never too late to go after it," she said. "Dreams don't have an expiration date."
Summer Wilson is retiring as a cheerleader to pursue an opportunity with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit.