SI Swim Search finalist Kristen Louelle Gaffney explains why she tried out three times: ‘I was worried’

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue is scheduled to be released in July

Kristen Louelle Gaffney is living the dream.

After trying out for three years straight, the mom of two is now one of 15 finalists for this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit’s Swim Search. Each contestant had to submit a 60-second video of themselves explaining why they would be a great addition to the 2021 issue, which is scheduled to be unveiled in July.

The California native and blogger behind The Brunching Mama is married to Tyler Gaffney, a running back for the New England Patriots. The influencer and aspiring model is also the chief brand officer and partner of Zero Gym.

Gaffney spoke to Fox News about why she tried out for SI Swimsuit a whopping three times, which model made her feel sexy on set and how she hopes to inspire other moms to pursue their dreams.

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Kristen Louelle Gaffney is a finalist in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's Swim Search.

Kristen Louelle Gaffney is a finalist in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit's Swim Search. (Veronica Sams)

Fox News: How does it feel to be an SI Swimsuit finalist?

Kristen Louelle Gaffney: It’s honestly surreal. I’ve done this three years in a row. So I have been told no before. And it’s very easy, when you hear no, when you face rejection, to say to yourself, "I’m not good enough. This isn’t meant for me." But there was something in my heart that kept telling me to keep going. I remembered I turned to my husband and said, "Should I do this again?" Because I’m human. I was worried. I was scared.

But he encouraged me to follow that feeling I had. And that feeling excited me. So I said, "Let’s do it. Whatever happens, happens." Regardless, I’m going to impact women and make them feel that they can keep trying, no matter what. And if I can do that, then I’ve already won. That’s really what has been driving me this entire year.

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Fox News: What was the process like, especially during the pandemic?

Gaffney: It started with a one-minute video on Instagram, which is a little scary because everyone – from family to strangers – can see it. But that was the first step. I wanted to do something different this year. So I did a slow-mo video inspired by Pam Anderson. I had the "Baywatch" one-piece. But in the video, I trip and fall. And my two boys pick me back up. Not to be cheesy, but it’s not when you fall, it’s how you get back up. And I wanted a little comic relief and include my family.

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Then it was just waiting an entire year. That was a mental battle in itself because it was very easy to give up. You think, "No one has reached out to me. I don’t know if they like me." But I think that persistence made me get to where I am now. And that’s why I connected with the brand so much. It’s about persistence, consistency, uplifting other women and never giving up.

Fox News: What was it like finally getting the call?

Gaffney: … I remember I got on a call with other girls I’d recognized. MJ Day, the editor, said, "I’m not gonna waste any time here. I’m going to let you guys know, you’re finalists."  Within like a second, I just broke down. My husband makes fun of me and says I have the ugly Kim Kardashian cry *laughs*. And I totally do. I admit it. But I just broke down crying happy tears. Because after years of trying and pushing myself, it felt good to finally say I made it this far. It’s a true testament to never give up even when you’re ready to do so.

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Fox News: Did you shoot with them yet?

Gaffney: I did! It was at Atlantic City… At 4:00 a.m., I had to get my hair and makeup done. MJ was right next to me. It didn’t feel real at all. It didn’t feel real when I was at the beach. But I also felt, like, finally. All those early morning workouts, juggling kids and leading my career – it’s finally paying off. And they made me feel so sexy, so confident. It was intimidating because there were so many beautiful, talented women around me. But they all just made me feel so empowered and sexy. One person who really helped me was Jasmine Sanders, the golden Barbie. She helped me with posing and just hyped me up. She was so encouraging, warm and kind. I’ve never felt more confident and more sexy in my entire life than I did that day.

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Kristen Louelle Gaffney is a proud mom of two boys.

Kristen Louelle Gaffney is a proud mom of two boys. (Veronica Sams)

Fox News: How did you physically prepare for the shoot?

Gaffney: I’m an overall health and wellness nut. So I work out daily. I really love weightlifting. I’m not your six-foot, skinny, industry-standard model. I would like to embrace my curves. My trainer had me up my carbs. You know, eat more bacon, bagels and just bread. I was like, "No problem." *laughs*. But for me, the key is working out consistency and having balanced meals. But for the shoot, it was definitely all about weight training, lots of water and no drinking for a month, which is a little hard because I love my spicy margarita. But it was all worth it.

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As a woman entering the modeling industry, I want to be as real and authentic as possible. Otherwise, it’s eventually going to catch up to you. So this is my body. I feel comfortable in it and I’m happy. And this is what I’m going to rock.

Fox News: What does it mean for you to be part of something like SI?

Gaffney: It’s incredibly empowering. I feel like I have unlocked this superpower, as crazy as it sounds, to help make women feel as comfortable as possible with themselves. I want other women to say, "She’s a mom and she did it. I can do it too." I want to use my platform to connect with other women, inspire them to go after their dreams, whether it’s Sports Illustrated or motherhood, work – whatever it is. I’m just so grateful that I can do that.

Fox News: You mentioned it was your husband who encouraged you to keep trying. How does he feel about you becoming a finalist?

Gaffney: He has been my biggest support. He’s been my rock throughout our entire relationship. But we’re also each other’s rocks. Sometimes he needs to leave for trials and I hold down the fort with the kids and vice versa. When I was in Atlantic City, he had two crazy boys to take care of *laughs*. We give each other unconditional love and support. And I think that gives you confidence too. I wouldn’t be here without him.

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When it came to the Swim Search, Kristen Louelle Gaffney tried out a whopping three times.

When it came to the Swim Search, Kristen Louelle Gaffney tried out a whopping three times. (Veronica Sams)

Fox News: Who’s one SI Swimsuit model you’ve always admired and why?

Gaffney: I’ve always loved Rebecca Romijn. I think she’s beautiful. I grew up in the ‘90s and I just thought she was God’s gift. And she’s gone on to do so many things, which I greatly admire. And of course, Kate Upton. She’s just fearlessly herself. And she’s all about her family, which I really identify with as a mom.

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Fox News: How are you balancing being a hands-on mom while tackling a blossoming modeling career?

Gaffney: It’s pretty crazy. I still have to pinch myself, like, "What is my life?" *laughs* I like to lead each day with gratitude. I think finding the good in everything is important, even on days when it’s so stressful and I’m overwhelmed… I’m a present mom in the morning. And when I drop off the kids at school, I put my focus on my work. And when they’re home, I give them my all. Because that’s my most important role in life – mom. And at the end of each day, I’m content because I know I gave it my all.  

And look, it’s not always so simple. I’ve got two crazy little boys. They’re my Energizer bunnies *laughs*. They are three and almost five. So they’re keeping me busy. They don’t let me not be a mom. When people say, "How do you chill?" I don’t. We play Power Rangers *laughs*. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Fox News: What advice would you give to another mom who wants to feel sexy?

Gaffney: That’s the mold I’m trying to break. I think many people assume that when you become a mom, it’s all over. But as women, we have this superpower that men don’t have. We create life, we give birth. For me, understanding that superpower is the biggest adrenaline rush. Because you really feel like a superhuman. But understand what truly makes you confident. I think as moms, we tend to forget to make time for ourselves. We may think, "My kids come first, my home comes first, my husband comes first."  

But I think the mom should come first. She’s the foundation. If she crumbles, everyone else will crumble. So I say, spend time with yourself every single day. Whether it’s a bubble bath, a walk, reading, working out – just take an hour each day for yourself. Celebrate who you are. I think taking time for yourself is the key to unlocking that confidence.