A lot has changed for Jena Sims since she graced the cover of Jupiter Magazine in November 2021.
The model, actress, entrepreneur, and philanthropist married her longtime love, professional golfer Brooks Koepka, moved into a new home, and most recently, welcomed a baby boy named Crew. Professionally, Sims ventured into the world of fashion design, launching successful collaborations with Steve Madden, OneOne Swimwear, and Mignonne Gavigan. In July, at seven-and-a-half months pregnant, she walked the runway for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit at Miami Swim Week, which she notes was “a lifelong dream.”
Currently, Sims is a finalist for Rookie of the Year in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s annual Swim Search, whose winner will grace the pages of the iconic magazine’s sixtieth anniversary issue in 2024. (You can cast your vote here through August 31).
Here, we catch up with Sims about going after her dream, becoming a mom, and what’s on the horizon:
How did the Sports Illustrated Rookie of the Year opportunity come about?
The brand started a Swim Search contest several years ago, but back then, I was held back by fear of judgment from others and rejection. Last year, I worked through those beliefs and decided to chase my dream and submitted an audition video. I am so thankful for the Swim Search because it allows Sports Illustrated Rookie hopefuls to have that opportunity at our fingertips.
The mission of my nonprofit, Pageant of Hope, closely resembles what the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit brand stands for, so it would be amazing to have that backing and work with them to make a larger impact on the world!
What was it like to walk in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Runway Show in Miami? How did you feel leading up to the big event?
It was terrifying, yet extremely rewarding. My background is in pageants, modeling, and acting. I have always been “in control” of my body through healthy meal prepping and exercise, and I know how to train for swimsuit jobs.
Being pregnant, I released that control and owned my body. I have never felt more empowered and prouder of myself. Physically, I was working hard in other ways—like growing another human’s organs! I also loved that I was never alone on the runway; I had my son with me every step of the way. I can’t wait to embarrass him one day with my runway video footage!
This was a huge step in landing my dream job, so in some ways I put pressure on myself. I did my best to give myself a ton of grace because I was in my third trimester of pregnancy and didn’t have 100 percent of my energy. I gave it my all, and looking back, I feel like I rocked it.
What sort of message were you hoping to send to models, mothers, and women in general?
You are allowed to pursue your dreams before, during, and after pregnancy. For me, motherhood fuels ambition. The message I want to convey is the same as Sports Illustrated Swimsuit: All bodies are swimsuit bodies.
You’re doing amazing work with Baby Quest to make fertility treatment more accessible to the people who are seeking to start families.
Thank you! Bringing Crew into the world was the biggest blessing, and I want to help other women do the same. My latest jewelry collaboration with Mignonne Gavigan donates 50 percent of proceeds to the foundation. Baby Quest provides grants for women who can’t afford the high costs of IVF, surrogacy, and other fertility testing.
What inspired you to begin your work with Baby Quest?
I was introduced to Baby Quest through Katrina Scott, a fellow Sports Illustrated model. The organization spoke to me because I pride myself on my desire and drive to chase after my own dreams. Baby Quest helps women who are in same-sex marriages, who are single and wanting to start a family on their own, or who are simply unable to afford IVF. I want to help show the world that women really can do anything.
What are Pageant of Hope’s plans for 2023, 2024, and beyond?
This year, I was focused on my pregnancy, but we did hold an event at Harbourside Place. In November, we will also partner with Best Buddies Palm Beach at the Champion of the Year gala. I am the proud co-chair for the event and would love some local support.
In the future, we would love to bring back the international events. We will also continue to host the annual Jupiter Pageant event, as it is more successful year after year thanks to our awesome community.
We are the most inclusive pageant in the world: Every participant receives leaves a winner and receives a unique title. Pageants of Hope have been held all over the world, crowning thousands of participants and teaching the importance of inner beauty and self-confidence. (To learn more or to host a pageant, visit pageantofhope.org.)
How does motherhood feel so far? Any surprises?
I am only a month in, but it has taught me so much perseverance. I’m learning to pump and breastfeed right now, and since Crew was in the NICU for 20 days in the beginning, that added some challenges physically and emotionally.
The only surprise is just that new “level” you unlock. It’s hard to describe, but all my mom friends say something just kicks in when you see your child for the first time, and it’s true! I am stronger in myself and in my relationship, and I’ve never loved something so much as that tiny little human I created with my husband. Watching Crew fight and show strength in the NICU has motivated me to work harder and be the best I can be. [Brooks and I] both want to make him proud.