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Worcester’s Cris Urena in SI’s swimsuit issue

Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated

Amid all the heavy breathing about Kate Upton’s zero-gravity spread in the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, it would be easy to overlook Cris Urena. The 24-year-old Worcester native is one of the models who strike a sultry pose in the 50th anniversary of SI’s iconic issue. “Growing up, I’d always seen the magazine on the stands, but I was never allowed to look at it until I was older,” says Urena, a graduate of Worcester Vocational High School who only started modeling three years ago. Aware that the swimsuit issue helped catapult the careers of some of her idols — Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Elle Macpherson, Cheryl Tiegs, and Kathy Ireland, to name just a few — Urena says she was thrilled to be invited to St. Lucia for the December photo shoot. “The water was so warm and clear and the sunsets were breathtaking,” she says. (It’s certainly a far cry from Worcester in the winter.) “My shoot took two days, and on the first day I got to interact with the locals, which helps my modeling. It makes me more confident when there’s a crowd. I become inspired by them.” Because Sports Illustrated keeps details of the swimwuit issue a secret until it’s released, Urena’s family, who live in Roslindale now, didn’t know she was in the magazine. “They’re very proud,” she said. “I enjoy what I’m doing. And I’m very grateful for each day that I have doing this.”