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Nicole Petrie Lives Her Dream While Supporting Her Family

After her mom’s FTD diagnosis, the SI Swim Search finalist doesn’t take anything for granted.

Since she was 20, Nicole Petrie has been juggling the pursuit of her dream of being a full-time model with the care of her mother, who was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) 10 years ago. Petrie, a 2022 SI Swim Search finalist, continues to find balance as best she can so that she can be there for her family while focusing on her career. Along the way she’s been raising awareness for the progressive brain disease and its impact on caregivers. Below Petrie opens up about her mom, who will turn 58 on July 10, and let’s us know how life has been since landing a spot in the 2022 SI Swimsuit Issue.

So, the issue is now out! How has it been going for you?

“Well, the Swim Search itself was definitely a crazy roller coaster of a ride, but after that, I just took some time to reflect. Now I’ve been working with a new mother agent, and we’re working on placing me with a new agency in Miami, then Chicago and New York after that.”

How was it keeping this photo shoot a secret?

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“I was one of the last girls, I think, maybe the last girl to get the call, so I had less time to prepare than the rest. If I think back on the timeline, I got the call on a Thursday, and then I think we went to the [Dominican Republic] the next Wednesday. I’m not going to say I didn’t wish I had more time to prepare, but it was definitely a good experience to just be thrown into it, and not overthink it too much.”

You posted on Instagram the moment you showed your mom the issue. I can’t even imagine what was going through your head…

“Definitely a lot of different emotions. It’s difficult when you really want to be able to share an experience with somebody so close to you, and they’re not really able to. I still know deep down that she is very proud of me, and she had so much to do with me getting to this point and accomplishing this goal, so she’s sharing that with me. I know that she would be proud.”

How long has it been since your mom was diagnosed?

“It’s been over 10 years. She was diagnosed in her late forties, and she had symptoms for a few years before her official diagnosis. Because she was so young, even the doctors couldn’t figure out what it was for a really long time. They didn’t even really consider any dementia until a few years into the process of trying to get a diagnosis.”

Getting that diagnosis while you were younger, how did that shape who you are today?

“I was starting college, and I think it had a huge impact, for sure. When I first started college, my main focus was playing volleyball and just basically figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I thought I wanted to be a marketing major at that point, and I thought I was going to be playing volleyball and making a future and possibly a career out of that. And then my mom started getting sick, and I decided to stop playing. I lost passion for that. Other things started to seem a little bit more important, and I wanted to move closer to home, so I transferred schools. I was very curious about the human brain and everything that was happening to my mom and also some mental health issues that I was struggling with at that point. I was experiencing some pretty bad depression at the time and anxiety for the first time. I decided to start studying psychology instead, and I just really learned through my studies and through taking care of my mom that your family is the most important thing that there is. And the people who you love and support you are very, very important and the time with them is very important. It definitely taught me to be a much more patient and understanding person, much more empathetic. You don’t know what’s going on in anybody’s life. You don't know what they’re going through and you have to be kind to everyone.”

Many people forget those values so, I think this foundation sets you up in a different way for this crazy life...

“I always say I have a good head on my shoulders because I come from the Midwest, and we have these wholesome family values I guess you can say. And definitely, the experience with my mom and my family going through all of this, like I said, it’s just taught me what’s truly important in life. I have really big goals in modeling. It’s something that I’ve been pursuing for a really long time, and I’ve put a lot of work and effort into. I think it’s easy for a lot of girls in this industry to get lost in the glitz and glamour, but I’m truly doing this because it’s what I’m passionate about. I want to be able to support my family and support anybody else who’s going through a similar situation. Just show that no matter where you come from, no matter what your family dynamics look like or the traumas or experiences that you’ve had to go through, you can still pursue the things that give you joy and be successful in whatever industry it is you want to be in.”

Absolutely, and I also think it’s a true testament to your family, who is probably encouraging you to go pursue your dream.

“I’ve had a lot of emotional conversations with my dad because it’s hard for me to be home and pursue this dream coming from Wisconsin. There are not really many big modeling opportunities there, so I have had to travel and be away from home and be away from my mom a little bit more than I would necessarily like. I definitely feel a lot of guilt around that, but I’ve had conversations with my dad and the rest of my family, my sisters and my grandparents, and they say my mom loved me and believed in me more than anyone else. She would want me to do what makes me happy, and she would want me to do what I know I’m capable of. There is nothing that I would want more than to spend as much time as possible with my mom, but I also know that she would want me to be doing this for her and for myself as well.”

Under this spotlight, have you noticed more awareness for FTD?

“I have so many messages from people who have reached out telling me how I’ve positively impacted their caregiving journey or just their lives in some way. And that’s such an honor for me to hear because I feel like the people who follow me and who are reaching out to me have helped me just as much, if not more. I also think that people are becoming more and more comfortable talking about dementia and talking about caregiving, which is so important because a huge part of why dementia is not talked about and why caregivers struggle so much is just because there’s this stigma around it.”

How do you hope to further this conversation and awareness?

“I just want to open up that conversation. I want people to be more comfortable talking about it because so many people are afraid to talk about it. And I'm not even necessarily sure why that is. It’s something that a lot of people don’t necessarily understand until they experience it, but for the people who are going through it, I think it’s important for them to feel comfortable enough to talk about it and to ask for help if they need it. It is so hard on the caregiver and the person with dementia. For us to be able to give the best care possible, we need to be able to take care of ourselves. And in order to do that, we need to ask for help sometimes. So if I can open up that conversation and help people to feel more comfortable in that space, that’s my end goal for sure.”

What do you do for yourself?

“Taking time for myself and making sure that I’m not overworking myself. I think that’s something that I tend to do if I don’t pay attention to it. I have this strong drive to keep working and keep going to the next thing, but sometimes I need to tell myself to take a step back and just take some time to relax and unwind a little bit, and then I can get back to it even better than before. I have an amazing boyfriend. He’s very good at supporting me and making sure that I take that time and get my mind off of the stressful things.”

Any summer trips?

“I just got back from a job in Nicaragua shooting for a resort there, so we took some time off for that. And we’re going to West Virginia for the first time where my boyfriend is from. This will be my first time meeting his childhood friends and that kind of thing.”

For more information about FTD, the AFTD is a great resource.