A “Model” Reservist: Lessons Learned from Deployments Translate to Sports Illustrated Feature for Krucial Alum Hilary
It’s not often that a person can examine a choice from their life and say with certainty that it was simultaneously the best and worst decision they ever made.
Hilary Seale is one of those people.
A Krucial Reservist alum, Seale deployed as an ER and ICU registered nurse during the height of the Covid pandemic, including to New York City in April 2020 when more than 1,000 people were dying every day. Seale also deployed on several occasions in Texas. She and her colleagues saw things that they will never be able to unsee or explain to people who weren’t in the thick of combatting the pandemic.
“I saw so many horrible, horrible things,” Seale said. “It felt like a war.”
Like many, Seale felt compelled to serve. She wanted to do something – anything – to help in a time of international crisis.
“I had always wanted to do a rapid response type of deployment – a hurricane, national emergency,” Seale said. “When the pandemic hit, it gave me the chance to fulfill that opportunity. I was single, I didn’t have any kids, I had all the right skills – I felt like people in my situation should be on the frontlines because it was the right thing to do. It really felt like a calling and that I was meant to be there. In a way, I thought of it as being unselfish and caring and I wanted to give back in some way. It was a quick decision, but I felt like I needed a bigger purpose and this was it.”
Seale’s arrival on the front lines was fast. She was working as an RN at a hospital in suburban Denver when the pandemic began. She quit her job, contacted Krucial and was in New York a week later.
“When I first got to New York, there was nobody out on the streets and that’s when it really hit me,” Seale said. “I was scared. We were all petrified. But, after we arrived and met other staff and saw the importance of us being there, it reinforced that we made the right decision.”
And then reality set in. The outcomes of this scenario – providing healthcare during the most devastating global pandemic in more than a century – were unimaginable. Yet, Seale and her colleagues didn’t have a choice – someway, somehow, they dealt with the unimaginable. Every day.
“It’s really hard to describe what being there was like,” Seale said. “At the beginning, when so many people were not surviving from Covid no matter what we did, it almost felt like we were there to help our fellow nurses as much as anything else because they were like my brothers and sisters. It was just a really hard and really tough situation.”
Some healthcare workers couldn’t fulfill their contracts due to the stress and trauma. Some only made it a few days, others less than a week. During that first New York deployment, Seale served for 21 consecutive days. Following a short reprieve of a few days, she then was back on the front lines for two straight weeks. But, everyone has a breaking point.
“I really couldn’t process what I was doing and what was happening, but I knew it was time,” Seale said. “You just didn’t have time to process things while you were there because you were working long hours and working seven days a week. Everyone was running on adrenaline and you were in your own world because everyone else was doing the same thing and you didn’t have a personal life because you didn’t have time. We were just immersed in the work the entire time. It probably took me a month after each deployment to feel like I was fully back into society.”
Still, Seale knew she had more to give. The pandemic continued surging and people everywhere needed help.
“Going back was the right thing to do,” she said. “It was a crisis situation across the country and I wanted to be on the frontlines with my colleagues. As a nurse, you’re obviously trained to help people, but I went back because I didn’t want to let anyone down – patients, my fellow nurses. I just wanted to help as many people as I could.”
Deployments to Texas followed – Amarillo, Gonzales, McAllen. So did more tragedy, grief and trauma – but also live-saving healthcare provided by Seale and her colleagues. Still, after two years of steady deployments, Seale found her limit.
“I reached the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore,” she said. “I needed to walk away for myself.”
Upon reflection, Seale realized that deploying was, in fact, the best AND worst decision she ever made.
“It was the worst because of everything I saw due to the pandemic, but it was the best thing in the sense that it makes you understand how fragile we all are,” she said. “It reminds you of how fast things can be taken away and how fast people can be gone. I think it really brought more humanity into myself. I realized that I could be brave and do something that was bigger than myself. It completely changed how I think about life and how I live my life.”
Speaking of brave, Seale’s life also took an unexpected turn due to the courage she found within herself during the pandemic. At various points in her life, she dabbled in modeling, but Seale was never terribly serious about it as a profession.
In between deployments, she came across Sports Illustrated Swim Search – essentially a competition in which people around the country could provide submissions to potentially be selected to appear in the magazine. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 edition of the competition was entirely virtual.
Seale saw an opportunity – albeit a scary one.
“Being in a bikini and having most of my body exposed was a very vulnerable feeling,” she said. “I challenged myself to get over those fears. There’s no question that being on deployments in New York during the pandemic gave me the strength to be brave enough to try for Sports Illustrated.”
Seale cobbled together materials from previous photoshoots – mostly lifestyle/clothing – and worked with a friend to produce a one-minute submission. The video starts with Seale describing herself as a tomboy who grew up playing ice hockey before “trading in a goalie mask for another kind of mask.” The video then segues into why Seale wanted to give it a shot in the first place: “I’m asking you for the chance to represent all young girls who grew up as tomboys in a male-dominated sport and essential workers and the women on the frontlines. I want to give them a voice and let them know that it’s okay to be confident and sexy and professional – all while wearing more than one mask.”
Seale’s message – and courage – caught the attention of the Sports Illustrated editorial team. As the competition progressed, Seale’s images were posted on the magazine’s website and Instagram. Among thousands and thousands of entrants, Seale was one of around 50 to be featured. Sports Illustrated has more than 10 million website visitors per month and its swimsuit Instagram account boasts more than 2 million followers.
Her courage paid off.
“When I found out, I cried and cried,” she said. “It was crazy to me – I couldn’t believe that someone like me could have done anything with Sports Illustrated. They were making the choice to feature normal people and that was really cool – just to know that out of all the submissions, they picked me. Being recognized by Sports Illustrated made me realize that I could have a career in the sector. It made me realize that I do have what it takes.”
Ultimately, Seale didn’t win the contest. Instead, she won in many other respects. In much the same way that she made life-long friends through her Krucial nursing deployments, she became friends with other contestants. Seale attended a Sports Illustrated red carpet event in Miami in conjunction with the competition. She signed to a modeling agency. Seale even did casting calls for TV shows.
It also clarified what she wanted in her life – and that wasn’t to live in New York or Los Angeles – essentially a requirement to participate full-time in the modeling world. Instead, she stayed in Colorado. And she models and serves as an influencer on her own terms. Seale has a number of clients – mostly lifestyle brands related to outdoor activities – something that seems quite appropriate for a self-described “tomboy.” Among these are Never Summer Snowboards and Mountain Vibez as well as Dawg Nation, a foundation comprised of hockey players that has raised more than $4 million to provide aid to families.
“I’m really happy that I’ve been able to carve out a piece of my life for this work, but also that it’s not everything that I do,” she said.
Her modeling activities are somewhat of a side enterprise for Seale as she made the transition from the nursing floor to selling essential medical devices to facilities around the country. As she did before and during the pandemic, she’s still ensuring people receive the essential healthcare they deserve – just in a different way.
With the passage of a few years’ time since making the decision to deploy to New York, it only reinforces Seale’s viewpoint: it really was the best and worst decision she ever made.
It’s the “worst” for the obvious reasons. But the reasons why it’s the best – it actually seems like that list keeps growing over time.
“I’m still friends with a lot of people who I met through Krucial on deployments,” Seale said. “We all have a bond because of the trauma we went through. During that time, your entire life was being at the hospital and so it felt like you had known the people you worked with for years.
“If I hadn’t gone to New York, I’d probably still be on the floor at my old hospital and I’d probably be miserable,” she said. “I don’t think I would have lived a bigger life. I definitely would not have gone for Sports Illustrated and I definitely wouldn’t be working in the influencer space. I just wouldn’t have been brave enough to go for the big opportunities. Going to New York literally changed my life. It really was both the best and worst thing that happened to me.”