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Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Sharina Gutierrez
Ben Watts/Sports Illustrated

Rookie Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model Sharina Gutierrez Is A Mom With A Message

The mom of three says landing a spot in the issue shows her kids that “dreams come true.”

There probably aren’t too many working moms out there who, at some point in the past four years, haven’t had to take a meeting or work call from her car. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue rookie Sharina Gutierrez is no exception. “I don’t know if it’s the New Moon, but they’re just on 100,” she jokes. “They’re like, ‘Mom! Pancakes.’” Luckily, her husband Russell Theriot was on hand, allowing Gutierrez half an hour to park down the street in front of a coffee shop to chat.

The 60th Anniversary edition of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit marks the model’s and first appearance on the glossy pages of the iconic issue. She and six other hopefuls earned their “rookie” status through the brand’s “Swim Search” open call, but this is probably the only area of her professional life where she could be considered a “rookie.” Gutierrez, 33, has been modeling for more than 20 years and has worked with brands like United Colors of Benetton, Levi’s, and Tommy Hilfiger to name a few.

“It’s crazy to even think of it like that because I feel like it was just yesterday,” she marvels. But SI was always a “North Star” for Gutierrez. “When I get there, I know that I reached a level of achievement and success in my career.’”

She first reached for the SI star 11 years ago. Flying from Los Angeles to New York to meet with the team, she was nervous, a new mom (her eldest son, Mason, is now 12), and looking back, she realizes, not ready. “I didn’t know who I truly was,” she recalls. “I was 21 years old, turning 22, and I really had no idea what I was even doing at that point. I wasn’t confident that I could get it, that I was deserving of being there.”

The ensuing decade was certainly eventful. In addition to advancing her modeling career, Gutierrez welcomed two more children — Lyla, 4, and Maia, 2 — and founded Mama Mantra, a lifestyle brand that seeks to bring families together in joy and gratitude.

Ben Watts/Sports Illustrated

SI also underwent a few changes of its own, making a concerted effort to expand the idea of who “belongs” in the magazine and on the cover. From the first plus-sized model ever on the cover — Ashley Graham in 2016 — to the oldest SI Swimsuit cover model — Martha Stewart in 2023 — the brand has redefined beauty to be more expansive and inclusive.

“SI Swimsuit has transcended its origins,” MJ Day, Editor in Chief of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, said in a press release. “It began as a mere diversion in the winter months when the sports calendar was relatively empty. Now it’s a global symbol of empowerment, diversity and positivity. We’ve done our best to honor women of all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds. We’ve strived to reshape societal norms and redefine the standards of beauty.”

This year’s edition exemplifies that journey by bringing together dozens of returning and rookie models, including cover models Chrissy Teigen, Gayle King, Hunter McGrady, and Kate Upton as well as “legends” like Brooklyn Decker, Christie Brinkley, Martha Stewart, Megan Rapinoe, Molly Sims, and Tyra Banks, whom Gutierrez says inspired her as a teen model.

When they leave, what am I going to do with my life? And what am I showing them? Life stops when you have a family? I think that that’s the worst thing that I could possibly do as a parent.

That’s not to say this was a time without bumps in the road for Gutierrez. “At one point, I had pulled away from the modeling industry. It was a pandemic, and then there were a lot of shifts and changes. I was like, ‘You know what? If it’s meant for me, it’ll come back. I just need to go on this journey.’”

But she soon realized something all parents do, hopefully sooner than later: children grow up. They’re not going to be around all the time, and if a mother gives up everything in service of her children, she’s actually doing herself and them a disservice in the long-run.

“When they leave, what am I going to do with my life?” she asks. “And what am I showing them? Life stops when you have a family? I think that that’s the worst thing that I could possibly do as a parent. I think the best thing that I could do is continue to show up and show them that they are the reason, one of the reasons, that I’m continuing to strive.”

So she decided to go for SI again. But this time was going to be different and incredibly intentional. “I didn’t leave my chances in somebody else’s hands,” she says. “This time, I decided to submit myself and know that I was worthy enough. I didn’t do it because my agency told me to. I just needed to prove it to myself that I could, and that’s when I got my yes.”

Looking back, she’s grateful for the “no” over a decade ago. “I feel like I wouldn’t have been able to use the platform [the way I can] today. To tell parents and moms that you don’t have to give up on your dreams because you became a parent. One of the greatest things that SI has ever given to me, and I know I’ve said this a lot over and over again, is the gift of showing my kids that dreams come true,” she starts to tear up, smiling. “And they get to experience that with me ... And now they get to take this, and go create whatever it is that they want to create.”

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will be available on newsstands May 17.