How I Went From Academia To Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Model At 57 Years Old

Don't let age be a barrier to achieving your goals.

Authors journey from Academia to Sports Illustrated at 57 years old Courtesy Of Author | Dana Patrick, Sports Illustrated

In a world that often equates beauty with youth and perfection, my journey serves as a testament to the power of embracing diversity and agelessness. From my early experiences in modeling in my 20s to a fulfilling career in academia, and now, at the age of 57 with gray hair, gracing the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, my path has been marked by resilience, reinvention, and the pursuit of passion. 


Say it with us: “Slay the gray!” 👏2023 Swim Search Co-Winner Nina Cash is officially an SI Swimsuit Rookie for the 60th Anniversary issue and we couldn’t agree more when she says it is like Christmas Day! 👙 🎁

♬ original sound - SI SWIMSUIT 👙

A foundation in modeling:


My journey in the modeling industry began in my early 20s, a time of exploration and self-discovery. As a young woman navigating the complexities of life, modeling offered me a platform for self-expression, creativity, and confidence-building. While my early experiences were fleeting, they ignited a passion within me that would lay dormant for decades, waiting to be reignited in a new chapter of my life.

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A career in academic leadership:

Following my brief foray into modeling, I transitioned into a career in workforce development and higher education. As an associate dean specializing in working with returning adult students, I was driven by a passion for empowering individuals to pursue their educational and professional goals. My role was multifaceted, encompassing program development, student support services, and community outreach. Throughout my time, I witnessed the transformative impact of education on individuals and communities, reaffirming my commitment to lifelong learning and personal growth.


The call to modeling at 57:

Upon retiring from academia, I found myself at a crossroads, grappling with the question of what comes next. It was during this transitional period that the opportunity to revisit my passion for modeling presented itself. Despite initial hesitation and self-doubt, I embraced the idea of an encore career in modeling, recognizing it as an opportunity to challenge societal norms and redefine beauty standards. 

At 57, with gray hair and a lifetime of experience, I embarked on this new chapter with determination and enthusiasm, eager to show that age is not a barrier to pursuing one's dreams.

Nina Cash headshot Credit: Dana Patrick


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The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue journey:

A pivotal moment in my modeling career came when I decided to submit a video application to the SI Swimsuit Search 2023. It was on a whim and a leap of faith, driven by a desire to challenge stereotypes and celebrate diversity. 

To my astonishment and delight, I progressed through the search, eventually earning a coveted spot as a Rookie in the prestigious 60th Anniversary Swimsuit Issue. Gracing the pages of Sports Illustrated at 57 with gray hair was not just a personal triumph but a powerful statement about the evolving definition of beauty in our society.


Nina Cash Sports Illustrated Ben Watts / Sports Illustrated

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Redefining beauty:

My experience with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and my encore career in modeling have been transformative in more ways than I could have imagined. Beyond the glitz and glamour, I discovered a newfound sense of empowerment and self-confidence. Through the lens of the camera, I found a platform to challenge societal norms, celebrate diversity, and inspire others to embrace their unique journeys.


My journey is a testament to the power of resilience, reinvention, and the celebration of diversity in beauty. It is a reminder that age is not a barrier to personal fulfillment and that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages. 

As I continue to navigate this new chapter in my life, I'm filled with gratitude for the opportunities that have come my way and inspired by the countless individuals who refuse to let age or societal norms define their aspirations. Together, let us embrace diversity and agelessness, celebrating the beauty of authenticity and individuality in all its forms.

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A wife, mother, and daughter, Dr. Nina Cash spent her life not only as a successful career-focused woman but also giving back and providing for others. She is the newly appointed 2024 Sports Illustrated Rookie Model winner/finalist and hopes to inspire and let the world know that exploring a new career at any age can be a beautiful thing.