Lewis Freese is the first male Sports Illustrated Swim Search finalist

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Lewis Freese is achieving his dreams and making history along the way.

The full-time student, 21, is breaking boundaries as the first male to become a Sports Illustrated Swim Search finalist, writing in his application that he believes the famed magazine “has the power to change minds and lives.”

“I want to work with Sports Illustrated so we can stop those who judge, criticize, or hate on those who are choosing to be themselves,” he wrote at the time.

“No longer should a man or woman feel they need to fit certain gender standards, no longer should stereotypes exist for sexual orientations, no longer should people hide their authentic character.”

This marked the Minnesota native’s second time applying to the Swim Search; 15 finalists were chosen from the annual open casting call for 2021, six of whom end up in the upcoming issue.

“Going through this process I have learned so much about myself and most importantly my identity,” Freese wrote in an Instagram post sharing the happy news. “To be honest, I have noooo clue where my gender really falls at the moment but all I can do is take things day by day and share every moment with all of you.”

In an interview with People, he pointed out that “swimwear is one of the most binary forms of clothing,” adding, “I think it’s ironic for me to be doing a swimsuit competition when swimsuits have been the downfall of my confidence in the past.”

Since he first applied to Swim Search in 2019, Freese added, his mission has evolved.

“It used to revolve around being male and how important it is to feel empowered by all, women, men, or nonbinary people,” he told the outlet. “However, as I’ve continued down this path of self-discovery, I’ve realized my message is so much more about gender variety and how every person’s gender presents itself differently.”

Freese, who is currently designing his own major, counts having his “own business promoting or creating gender-neutral products” and doing legislative work centering on “trans, queer, and nonbinary reform” among his future goals.

But for now, he has his sights set on making the coveted pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.


The budding model called SI Swim “truly a brand that cares about representation,” and views himself as the “next” barrier-breaking model rather than the “first.”

“Inclusivity means so much more than just checking boxes, it’s creating new ones that eventually become universally required,” he told People.

Leyna Bloom, the magazine’s first transgender woman of color, and Yumi Nu, the first Asian curve model, are similarly making history in the 2021 issue.

The magazine, which hits stands on July 20, will also feature COVID frontline worker Maggie Rawlins and a lineup of models including Lais Ribeiro, Tanaye White and Emily DiDonato.

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