Sports Illustrated: Did you have experience modeling before submitting an IG video or showing up in-person for #SISwimSearch?
Courtney Smits: I do have a little modeling experience. I was signed with Click Models in Atlanta for about a year when I was a teenager and did some print work. I have also walked the runway for Flirt, MacDuggal, Jovani, LaFee, Jazz Couture, and Tarik Ediz.
I joined the United States Army Reserve when I was 17, and upon my return from Basic Training, I was told that my muscular thighs were no longer a good fit for evening gown sample sizes. I was devastated, to say the least, but other doors opened and I stepped off of the runway and into print work.
SI: Tell us more about your background in the Army and your deferred deployment.
CS: I am a fifth generation service member, to include my mother, father, stepmother, and brother. I have served almost six years as a Psychological Operations Specialist in the Army Reserve. I enlisted when I was 17 and left for Basic Training a few weeks after graduating high school.
Growing up, I never really had any intention of joining the military, until I got to high school and really realized the amazing impact that it had on my family. Serving in the Reserves has allowed me to be a full time student while training with my unit at the same time.
SI: What was your casting experience like in Miami?
CS: I actually didn't start my journey until the very last day of video submissions! I was a little nervous because I thought that since my video was so different from every other video I had seen, and it was at the very last minute, that surely it would be lost amongst the thousands of submissions! So, I decided to take a chance and join several of my Miss USA sisters at the open casting in Miami.
We started our day by arriving at the W Miami at 4:45 am. The time flew by. We started to check in and I was assigned as #128. I couldn't believe I was FINALLY here! I had always heard such amazing things about the SI family from my big sister Jasmyn Wilkins after she became a rookie, so I was both nervous AND excited! I thought of the 127 girls that would go in before me, and the hundreds of others that were lined up behind me and, in that moment, the only thing that I could think of was my favorite verse, "Perhaps you were born for such a time as this" (Esther 4:14).
I had a sense of calmness…UNTIL it was my turn for the interview and I ended up with Brooks Nader! After my initial "fan girl" moment, we had a few minutes to talk, look over my photos and comp card, and then it was over...all I could do was wait!
My girls and I went back to our hotel and we waited for what seemed like forever, and that evening the text messages started coming in for those that had been selected for the first cut to 60. I seriously couldn't believe that I had made it to the first cut, what an absolute honor!
Next was the cut to 17! I know it must have been so very hard for the selection team! There were so many amazing women! Women from all backgrounds, colors, sizes, short, tall–women who all had a story to tell! Strong, confident women who just wanted to lift each other up and be an example for others to follow.
As we waited, we talked about things that inspired us, trials that made us stronger, rejections and triumphs that helped us grow. But in the end, we gained a new circle of friends that we never would have met without this chance encounter at a Sports Illustrated casting!
SI: What does being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search mean to you? How do you plan to use this platform?
CS: Being a part of the SI Swimsuit model search means that I am part of a collective group of women who believe that strong is beautiful! That who you are is enough, and that YOU are beautiful! Every woman that walked that runway was confident and amazing! We embraced the inclusivity of size, age, height, religion, and physical ability.
SI is setting the example that everyone is beautiful! I plan to use this platform to continue this trend and show other women that they an be who they want to be. That they are enough and are the key to their own happiness, and to not let the judgment of others ever steer them from their destined path!
Working in a male dominated field has shown me that femininity and hard work are no longer mutually exclusive. I was told that at one point in my career, I will be forced to choose between these two worlds that don't seem to fit together, that I “can’t be a model and be in the Army.” I was told that my male superiors and coworkers wouldn't take me seriously if I wear make up or “embrace my pretty,” and I was told by modeling agencies that I should quit the Army because “I am too pretty to be shot at.” Being a part of Sports Illustrated means that I can show young girls and women that we CAN have it all!
SI: What did being crowned Miss Virginia USA 2019 mean to you?
CS: Being crowned Miss Virginia USA 2019 was a dream come true. I had moved to Virginia only a few months before the competition due to a job change for my mom. Previously, I lived in Georgia for 15 years, and was attending the University of North Georgia when the offer came for her.
Around that same time, my grandfather had passed away and so, as we made the move, my grandmother also moved with us. When I was about 6 years old my Grandfather told me that I was his Miss USA and it planted the idea in my head. Then, before he passed away, he told me that I would always be his Miss USA and I knew I wanted to make it to that national stage for him.
When I was 10, my best friend and I started an organization called Queens For Courage that raised money and awareness for Wounded Warriors. Although Queens For Courage has dissolved as an organization, the mission continues and now includes involvement in programs that assist homeless veterans, teaming up with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services to promote better mental health programs for veterans with PTSD, and working with programs to help lower the veteran suicide rate. Having lost two military mentors to suicide, I want to continue my involvement with these programs long after I've given up the crown.
See photos from our unforgettable runway show at Miami Swim Week: