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Meet 2023 SI Swimsuit Rookie Melissa Wood-Tepperberg

The 40-year-old wellness leader shares the lifelong journey that led to her rookie photo shoot.

Fitness leader Melissa Wood-Tepperberg is a certified health and wellness coach, an entrepreneur, a wife and a mother, and this year the yoga and Pilates instructor is adding a new credential to her already-packed résumé: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model.

Wood-Tepperberg grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., and worked as a model and actress for nearly a decade during her 20s before shifting her focus to all things wellness. Now a mom of two (she and husband Noah Tepperberg have a son, Benjamin, and a daughter, Elanor), Wood-Tepperberg is the founder and creator of Melissa Wood Health, a platform that aims to make mindful health and wellness accessible and attainable for all.

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

What began with Wood-Tepperberg filming exercise content in her living room on her iPhone with a $24 tripod led her to eventually launch her fitness and wellness app, MWH, in late 2019. Her timing was truly kismet—when in-person fitness classes shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic and fitness buffs were forced to go virtual, Wood-Tepperberg’s health and wellness empire exploded.

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Wood-Tepperberg has built a personal brand not only around fitness, but also in helping her fans and followers achieve the best versions of themselves—both physically and mentally—through healthy means. It’s no wonder she’s amassed more than one million Instagram followers and has been featured in publications like Vogue, Forbes, Goop and now SI Swimsuit.

We’re thrilled to announce that Wood-Tepperberg will make her SI Swimsuit Issue debut in 2023. “[Melissa] blows me away both personally and professionally,” says SI Swimsuit editor in chief MJ Day. “She leads with passion and compassion while providing accessible and attainable outlets for women to evolve and grow their physical and mental well-beings. We couldn't be more excited to name Melissa as one of our rookies for the 2023 issue, celebrating her successes as a woman, mother and entrepreneur.”

After working with photographer Yu Tsai in Dominica, Wood-Tepperberg chatted about her photo shoot in the Caribbean, embracing confidence at 40, how she hopes to empower others, her mindfulness tips and more.

“It feels so beyond incredible to be a Sports Illustrated rookie.”

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

“Surreal” and “amazing” are two words Wood-Tepperberg uses to describe her SI Swimsuit rookie experience.

“It feels so beyond incredible to be a Sports Illustrated rookie,” says Wood-Tepperberg. “I can’t fully believe it, but then I can believe it because I’m here and I’m doing it, and it just feels phenomenal.”

She calls her day on set both wild and magical, adding that she experienced more excitement than anxiety throughout the process and felt very sure of herself.

“Being with Yu Tsai and MJ [Day, SI Swimsuit editor in chief] and the entire team, I have to say that I felt so entirely supported throughout every single step of the way,” she says. “It’s like working with a well-oiled machine, and I just felt like I was able to fully be myself and bring forward the real me in the most effortless way with incredible direction.”

Wood-Tepperberg says that while every swimsuit she wore “blew my mind,” she called out a brown bikini as her No. 1 favorite look from the shoot. She adds that a moment in which she was photographed on a swing was one of the most memorable parts of the day, saying she felt peaceful and believes the shot captured her true essence.

“There was just a softness and serenity in my face that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before on film or on camera,” she says, adding she felt like “the real me.”

As the shoot was wrapping and everyone began to congratulate Wood-Tepperberg ahead of her last shot, she says the true immensity of the life-changing moment finally hit her.

“I was able to really take a breath and be like, ‘Wow, like this was a dream of mine that I actually fully lived out to its fullest potential,’” she says of being featured in the SI Swimsuit Issue.

“I’m the most confident I’ve ever been.”

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

Wood-Tepperberg, who turned 40 in December, says she’s “so excited” to have reached her milestone birthday.

“I feel so good about it. I think the Melissa in her 20s looked at 40 [like] … if you don’t reach things by the age of 40, that was it,” she says. “That was the old mentality that I had, and now I’m just scratching the surface. Like things get better; you become more yourself at this age. So I feel really good about it.”

Though she was a model in her 20s, Wood-Tepperberg says she’s much more sure of herself and more comfortable in her own skin at 40 than she ever was when she was younger.

“I am the most confident now that I’ve ever been in my entire life,” she says. “So it just shows, embrace age.”

Wood-Tepperberg says she hopes to use her platform to help young girls understand that life genuinely gets better with age, and that aging is nothing to fear.

“I would tell any young girl who thinks 40 is old that it just keeps getting better, and it really is because you just become more of who you are,” she says. “You become more comfortable in your own skin, and it’s also really taught me that age is really just a number and not to grasp or grip it too tightly. There’s just so much beauty in the becoming of getting older and wiser and more confident in your own skin.”

“I’ve never given up on myself.”

Wood-Tepperberg says she has wanted to pose for SI Swimsuit “for as long as I can remember” and hopes that by seeing her photo shoot, other women are inspired to reach for their own dreams, no matter what they aspire to do in life.

“I hope that anyone out there who feels any sense of not feeling enough or that things are impossible, that they can really tap into more than just these incredible photos, but the idea and the realm of infinite possibilities when you never give up on yourself,” Wood-Tepperberg says.

While the photo shoot in Dominica resulted in a trove of breathtaking photos, there were also countless mental takeaways for Wood-Tepperberg, including a renewed sense of courage and self-worth.

“This was just something I always dreamed of doing because of the empowerment and the strength that comes through these pages, that it’s so much more than just the visual,” she says.

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

Wood-Tepperberg feels that goals shouldn’t have a timeline or an age limit, and she encourages people to draw inspiration from her SI Swimsuit photo shoot to make their own dreams and goals a reality.

“Turning 40 and being able to live out one of my greatest desires, I want anyone out there to know that you can do anything—you really can—that you set your mind and your energy and your focus and your intention toward,” she says. “You can make it become a living, breathing reality.”

Manifesting her goals is something that Wood-Tepperberg truly believes in, and she attributes her success in part to her refusal to give up on her dreams.

“I believe that with everything because I’m doing it, and I’m doing it because I’m not giving up,” she says. “I’ve never given up on myself.”

Trust your journey and never lose faith in yourself, Wood-Tepperberg advises, while also putting in the hard work and dedication necessary to make your aspirations come to life.

“It really is true that when you align yourself and your actions with the things that you want to bring into your life, you can do anything,” she says.

“Meditation has really helped me slow down and to live in the present.”

Wood-Tepperberg says that so much of her success comes back to mental health, which starts with mindfulness. There is nothing more important than her emotional and mental wellness, she says, and adds that her ability to share that message of mindfulness with her fans and followers is her true calling.

“I want to be sharing this gift that I know is my life’s work,” she says.

For Wood-Tepperberg, fitness begins with mental fortitude, and she defines mental health as the truest alignment with oneself. She says she carves out time to meditate every single day, a practice she has been cultivating for more than a decade.

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

Melissa Wood-Tepperberg was photographed by Yu Tsai in Dominica. Swimsuit by Ola Vida. Necklace by Alexis Bittar. 

“What I started to realize when I found a meditation practice and I committed to it is that this work is not just about building this body that we desire in life. It’s about building this relationship with yourself, and I know that it starts in the mind,” she says.

Her simple practices—like avoiding scrolling through her phone first thing in the morning and beginning each day from a place of gratitude—are easy ways for all to practice mindfulness in our own lives.

“Meditation has really helped me slow down and to live in the present, to be present with every single thing that’s in front of me,” she says.

Wood-Tepperberg says that when she puts her mental health first, she’s better able to take care of everything else in life, whether that’s focusing on family or her work.

“Be who you are.”

Trusting her intuition and listening to her internal voice while staying deeply connected to her inner self have served Wood-Tepperberg well in her personal brand journey as an entrepreneur. She says she stays rooted to her own truth rather than comparing her process or experience to anyone else’s.

“In becoming my own personal brand, the most important thing has been maintaining that authentic voice that I have and staying really, really true and really grounded in who I am,” she says.

Wood’s life mantra is “Be who you are.” While it’s sometimes difficult to remain authentic to oneself in a day and age in which so many people flaunt their successes (and rarely failures) on social media, Wood-Tepperberg follows her own path and achieves her goals through hard work and determination without falling victim to imposter syndrome.

She says staying true to herself and never reaching for anything that doesn’t feel automatically aligned with her vision have been a few of the secrets to her success in building a brand over the last several years.

“I always bring it back to, ‘Why did I start this? Why am I here? Why do I wake up? Why do I do this work?’” Wood-Tepperberg says. “And it’s all about just continuing to make an impact [in order] for people to see themselves differently.”

While she launched her business in her home, alone, Wood-Tepperberg says she never let the challenge of starting as a one-woman team deter her.

“I never let that stand in the way of me sharing the thing that saved me [and the hope] to have this connect with anyone else out there who was going through struggles within themselves,” she says. “That’s definitely something that I’m most proud of.”

Today, she has expanded her team at MWH to more than 20 people and says a big part of being a thriving business owner is the ability to not only adapt, but also delegate and place trust in her team.

“The most challenging thing has been to let go and to allow people to come in who have strengths that are different than mine and to let them do their thing and to trust them,” she says.

Wood-Tepperberg says “You’re only as strong as your team,” which is a notion that was reiterated for her on location in Dominica at her SI Swimsuit photo shoot.

“This has been just beyond anything I ever could have imagined, and it’s also just a reflection of what Sports Illustrated is because every single person I’ve worked with has been incredible, and this has been a dream come true on a whole new level,” she says.

Undoubtedly, those dreams are coming true because Wood-Tepperberg puts in the work necessary to make her visions a reality with grit and tenacity. Her confidence is contagious, her business savviness is admirable, and gratitude is at the root of it all.

“I'm so honored and grateful to be here,” Wood-Tepperberg says.