“I had to stand for three hours while I was painted gold,” BMX Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields remembered.
It had been a little more than a month since the Olympic Games ended in Rio, and the athlete in possession of Team USA’s first gold medal in BMX had been in front of the camera so many times he had to scroll through his camera roll on his phone to recall the details of his most memorable photo shoot.
“Look,” he said getting to the photo of him covered in head-to-toe body paint for the cover shoot for the BMX magazine Pull. “It took me a week to get it off. I even had it in my ears.”
At today’s shoot, which was for the Team USA Holiday catalog, Fields was being featured alongside three other athletes: 23-time Paralympic swimming medalist Jessica Long, Olympic gold medalist hurdler Dalilah Muhammad and Olympic silver medalist fencer Daryl Homer.
None were new to photo shoots; Fields had done this so many times he had even learned the lingo (“they can just Photoshop it out,” he said once), and the ins and outs of the modeling world (he suggested he not wear the Team USA beanie until the last shot so it didn’t mess up his hair for subsequent photos).
As the four athletes took turns posing in front of the camera in the latest gear from Team USA, it was easy to see why Muhammad’s brother and sister would think she’s a celebrity.
The cover girl of the catalog had been getting the star treatment ever since returning home from Rio. In her hometown of Queens, New York, she had a parade held in her honor, and also walked the runway at New York Fashion Week.
While sitting around the table with the crew over the catered lunch, she confessed up that “it takes me a while to warm up — because I’m just naturally a shy person.” But you could never tell from the photos; she even obliged the photographer when he asked her to jump for a few action shots.
And the hair and makeup artists were impressed, saying to one another, “they’re athletes, but they’re really good at posing.” The staff took turns posing with the athletes’ medals (and were in awe when they learned that the Paralympic medals make a distinct noise when shaken for the visually impaired athletes to know if they are gold, silver or bronze).
Long said her comfort in front of the camera might have something to do with the fact that “my first love before swimming was modeling. Swimming kind of took over when I fell in love with the sport, but I’m so intrigued by lighting and angles,” she said. “When I was little, I loved watching ‘America’s Next Top Model.’”
Homer didn’t have the same aspirations to model. When he was 5, he saw a picture of a fencer in a children’s dictionary and told his mom that’s what he wanted to do when he grew up. “My mom laughed at me,” he remembered. But then, he said, a couple years later when he saw two guys fencing “that was it — my mom looked up places to train.”
Modeling “is fun,” he said, “in moderation.” But if he’s going to do it, 90s R&B music helps him get in the right mood.
Long — who had both her lower legs amputated at 18 months old — took 45 minutes to get her prosthetic legs into her skinny jeans, but she agreed that photo shoots are fun. Especially as a girl, thanks to the hair and makeup and clothes, even if “being in prosthetics is like trying to pose on stilts.”
But she admitted that she finds photo shoots exciting for another reason, as well.
“For me, being a girl who is missing both her lower legs, I think not only is it fun to get glammed up,” but, she said, “I hope it breaks barriers for other girls. I really want to redefine the word beautiful and model. The more unique you are, just embrace your differences.”