by Hanna Flanagan | People
At 5-feet-3-inches tall, 56-year-old Kathy Jacobs is not your average covergirl. In fact, if she wins the Sports Illustrated Model Swim Search competition, the age-defying beauty will be the oldest and shortest rookie in the history of the franchise.
But Jacobs — one of six SI Model Search finalists who flew to Turks & Caicos to shoot a spread for the magazine with iconic fashion photographer Yu Tsai last month — says she’s learned to embrace the “two strikes” she has going against her.
The rising star tells PEOPLE exclusively that winning the annual competition would, “send such hope to so many women around the world who have been excluded [from the modeling industry] for so long.”]
“I think it would show that you are never too old or short to be relevant, deserving, current, sexy and, most of all, to be included!” Jacobs says.
The entrepreneur, body-positive activist and mom of one got a late start on her modeling career (she previously told Fox News that gracing an SI cover has “always been a dream” but “sometimes you take a break from your dream and go back to it”). Still, Jacobs says posing in front of a camera felt natural — especially after taking belly dancing classes to boost her confidence!
Related: Jasmine Sanders is the 2019 SI Swimsuit Rookie of the Year!
“I was not scared to be in a bikini at all. I have done several shoots in a bikini in the past year and thankfully, have only had great experiences,” Jacobs tells PEOPLE. “Plus, everyone in the SI Swimsuit set is so amazing to be around that you feel 100% comfortable at all times.”
On her experience collaborating with Tsai (who appeared as a judge and contributor on America’s Next Top Model and photographed celebs including Cindy Crawford, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Chrissy Teigen), Jacobs quips: “I had no idea he was so funny!”
“He is so smart. When he gave me instructions, I did what he said because he is the master and I am the student,” she shared. “I wanted to learn from the master.”
But the up-and-coming model says she was intimidated and admits the pressure she put on herself to deliver made her feel “numb” on the first day of the photo shoot.
“I had some apprehension coming into the shoot, I felt a lot of pressure from myself to do a good job and definitely felt really nervous. On the other hand, I just really wanted to show what a 56-year-old is capable of — that we are unstoppable. I hit the gym even harder than before and just tried to focus on the positive.”
During the five-day, once-in-a-lifetime SI trip, Jacobs made plenty of memories with fellow finalists Tanaye White, Jamea Lynee, Clarissa Bowers, Christie Valdiserri and Brielle Anyea — including making many guest appearances in Valdiserri’s TikTok videos, proving once and for all that age is just a number.
“I can keep up with girls less than half my age,” Jacobs says. “It’s never too late and I’m not too old.”
In July, the historic franchise hosted the annual Model Search for the 2020 issue in Miami. The open casting call provided an opportunity for both new faces and established models to meet with the team, share their stories and show why they would be a great addition to the 2020 issue.
“I’ve entered the SI Swimsuit Model Search and flown to Miami twice. The first time I didn’t make it past the first round. But I didn’t give up!” Jacobs told PEOPLE last month when asked what inspired her to enter the contest. “I felt a burning desire to try again and to be part of a change in the way society views women over 50.”