For many of us, the American Dream starts with a magazine cover. It’s the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, where classic bombshells like Tyra Banks and modern icons like Ashley Graham became household names . . . and gave millions of other women the inspiration to go for our dreams. (Or at least for our Instagram filters.)

But how do the models actually get on their first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover? We asked this year’s rookies—London native Natalie Gage, curve influencer Gabriella Halikas, and soccer champ Ally Courtnall—along with their self-appointed mentor Jasmine Sanders, aka Golden Barbie—to find out how to get discovered for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Natalie Gage photographed by Yu Tsai in Atlantic City, N.J. Swimsuit by Trunkettes.

Natalie Gage 2021

Step One: Work Out…but Not the Way You Think

“Yes, I go to the gym,” explains SI Swim Search model Natalie Gage, a London model with Jamaican roots. “But I do it internally, for endorphins and energy. It has nothing to do with burning calories. I take it slow. I go on the treadmill and listen to Celine Dion. I listen to “My Heart Will Go On” and think about what I have to do for the day and psych myself up . . . then I listen to Bob Marley." 

"I can’t be in Jamaica, but I can have reggae in my life. Creating those positive vibes is the most important part of my workout—not some calorie counter. It’s so I can walk it out, listen to my favorite music, and laugh.”

Gabriella Halikas photographed by Yu Tsai in Atlantic City, N.J. Swimsuit by TRIANGL.

Gabriella Halikas 2021

Step Two: Never Apologize for What You Want

“I literally always wanted to be a Sports Illustrated model,” says Greek-American model and social media star Gabriella Halikas. (You can call her Ella.) “But it took a little while to say out loud, ‘I should do this.’ 

"For a while, I was posting bikini pics on Instagram. People said, ‘You should model’ and I laughed and said, ‘Yeah right.’ When I finally thought, ‘Well, what if I did contact an agent?’ that’s when it all started happening for me. 

People say all the time, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ But I want to create an army of confident women and create a ripple effect of confidence. And for that to happen, we all have to ask ourselves, ‘What’s the best that could happen?’ And then we have to go for it. Not just in the mirror. In real life.”

Ally Courtnall photographed by Yu Tsai in Atlantic City, N.J. Swimsuit by Beach Riot.

Ally Courtnall 2021

Step Three: Embrace the Awkward

As a SI Swim Search model, former soccer champ Ally Courtnall was used to win-or-lose situations. “I always got my validation from a scoreboard,” she says. “I could tell when the ball went into the goal. But when you’re doing swimsuit shoots, you feel like a total weirdo sometimes."

"I was the first one to go shoot my photos, out of all the rookies. We were in Atlantic City in early May. It was freezing! I’d had 2 hours of sleep. I woke up and had to be ready to go. I was so nervous and I was trying to find my center. Thank god for Jasmine Sanders, because she was on-set being like, ‘Don’t touch your hair! Don’t touch your face! You’re perfect!’ But I did not feel perfect. I was on the ground in this pose with my knee down and my other knee up. My hand was over my head. It wasn’t until I saw my photos on the monitor that I realized I knew what I was doing and it looked really good. Sometimes you have to say f*ck it and just go for it.”

Click here to see more of Natalie GageGabriella HalikasAlly Courtnall and Jasmine Sanders.