Matthews native Brooklyn Decker spent the best day of her career not in a bikini, but in tears.
She cried when she learned she would appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated's famous swimsuit edition, one of the most coveted achievements in modeling.
She bawled when her mother and brother, who secretly flew in from Charlotte, showed up at a party in Manhattan in her honor.
And she sobbed again 10 minutes later when her dad arrived.
"I cried three times," she said. "It was a very good day."
And things can only get better for the 22-year-old blonde model, who has appeared in the issue five straight years. Being on the cover of the Swimsuit Issue is the modeling world's equivalent of winning an Academy Award.
Between the magazine, its Web offerings, and TV exposure, the swimsuit franchise reaches 1 in 3 U.S. adults, according to SI estimates. Past cover girls include Tyra Banks, talk show host and creator of The CW reality series "America's Next Top Model"; Heidi Klum, host of the Lifetime TV reality series "Project Runway"; and Christie Brinkley, who's been spokesmodel for CoverGirl for longer than Decker has been alive.
"It's a launching point for somebody to really make a huge name for themselves," said Diane Smith, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated who has been in charge of the swimsuit edition for 11 years. "She is now going to be a household name, no doubt about it."
Added Decker, who Tuesday afternoon was No. 1 on Yahoo!'s "Trending Now" list: "You have the honor for a year - it's not something that shifts every month. So it's a very big deal. You look at the roster of girls who have shot it, all these iconic models, to be joining their ranks is gonna be great for my career."
'Oh, that's so her'
The 2010 Swimsuit Issue, which began arriving in stores Tuesday, features Decker in a set of photos shot in The Maldives, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean. She can be seen wearing six different bikinis but, notably, no wedding ring.
Don't get your hopes up, though, guys: "I just didn't want it to fall in the ocean," she explained. In fact, her husband - tennis star Andy Roddick - was the fourth surprise guest at the party on Monday. ("My husband and dad walk in with a platter of food, and they're like, 'Anybody need any hors d'oeuvres?'")
In the cover shot, the Butler High grad is clad in a bright-yellow bikini bottom, with the matching top slung over her shoulder, her left arm barely concealing her naked chest, and a smile flashing in the tropical sunlight.
"Beautiful, gorgeous picture," said her brother, Jordan, 20, who lives and works in Matthews. "It's totally her, too. I just get that feeling when I look at the pictures, like, 'Oh, that's so her.'"
When asked if it's weird for him to see her ... like that, he says: "Only when my good buddies comment on the pictures - but I got used to that."
And what about Dad? "Oh man, I know that Brook has ruined the swimsuit issue for most of my friends," says Stephen Decker. "It's just different. There are certainly no manuals on how to react to that one."
Stephen Decker said he and his wife, Tessa, have a couple of chests containing their daughter's work, and the stacks inside them are high: In addition to the five swimsuit issues, Brooklyn has appeared in advertising campaigns for Gap, Victoria's Secret, American Eagle and Hollister, and has been featured in Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, FHM, Seventeen and GQ.
"One of these days, when her kids are asking, I think we'll have tons of material," said Stephen Decker - who's not a grandparent yet.
Whirlwind day Tuesday
Decker said she's very much looking forward to getting back to Charlotte, which she last visited at Christmas.
"All my best friends are down there, so when they found out I had the cover, they said, 'You have to come home so we can all celebrate here!' Decker said. "So I'm probably gonna go back in a couple of weeks for a weekend."
The announcement and the fanfare that goes along with it is keeping her plenty busy. She spoke Tuesday with the Observer during a whirlwind day that included an appearance on "The Today Show," an interview on David Letterman's show, a launch party in New York, and a plane trip with the other models to Las Vegas, where SI will host two more launch parties over two nights.
Once the celebrating is over, she doesn't know what her next step will be.
"It's crazy. This was (my dream), and I got it at 22...so now I've got to kind of rework my game plan."
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