Shreveport native Ariel Meredith dreamed of two things growing up: becoming a professional model and being in Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition.
Both of those dreams have come true.
Meredith, 24, is featured in the 2009 swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands today. Her professional modeling career took off after she moved to New York one month after graduating from Huntington High School in 2002.
But Meredith was posing for the cameras long before then.
"I knew I wanted to be a model during one of those times when my parents would pick up the camera when I was a little girl and say 'take a picture,'" she said. "I would just puff out my little hip and say 'OK.'"
Meredith's mother, Marjorie Meredith, said her daughter was always posing.
"If you look through any of the family photo albums you will find Ariel in a noticeable and striking pose," she said.
When Meredith was 14 years old, she won a modeling competition in Dallas. In 1998, she signed with Ford Models in New York and the Campbell Modeling Agency in Dallas. As a teenager she graced the pages of Seventeen, Teen Cosmopolitan, Cosmopolitan, Sugar and Teen magazines.
Meredith said when she did the photo shoot for Sports Illustrated in October, which was shot on a secluded island in Mexico, she had just returned from shows in Milan and Paris.
"Sports Illustrated, that was an opportunity that passed me up when I was younger," Meredith said. "That was something I wanted to accomplish in my dreams."
Meredith said Sports Illustrated was a dream come true after years and years of being told no. "No, you are too curvy. No, you will never walk on a runway." And now, that no has become a yes.
"I was in my own zone until the Sports Illustrated shoot, working out every day and doing everything possible, on my part, so I could do the best and be the best in the modeling industry I could be," Meredith said. "I wanted to make my parents proud. They have seen the journey it has been."
And her parents are proud. In fact, they flew to New York on Sunday to be there for the Sports Illustrated news conference and launch party.
Meredith said another big accomplishment for her was shooting a YSL commercial for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris.
"That was something big for me because that was my first international job," she said.
Cynthia Jones-France, of Shreveport, said Meredith was 14 years old when she first met her.
"I owned a modeling agency called France International and she walked through my doors two months after I opened and essentially made my agency," Jones-France said.
Jones-France said when Meredith walked in you immediately knew she had "that."
"What I mean is she had not only the look but she had the mentality and the attitude," she said. "At 14, she was very professional and it was like sitting there talking to a 30-year-old."
Meredith is quick to say although modeling is fun, it isn't all glitz and glamour.
"The most challenging thing about my career is trying to stay in shape," she said. "Staying in shape is very important and your image is everything, but it's not always easy."
Meredith said there are times when you're on the go so much you're super skinny.
"Just like you need to be. You're perfect," she said. "But then you get your time off and you say, 'let me get that plate of ribs.' And I just had some catfish," Meredith laughed.
"You can't just sit and eat apples and sandwiches, you've got to live," she said.
Meredith said she tries to emphasize to younger girls who want to model that they have to just live life.
"Just because you see something on TV that doesn't mean it has to be you," she said. "Whatever you love to do, whatever your passion is, follow that and stick to that."
Meredith said traveling also can take its toll.
"We make these beautiful pictures, but people don't know the hard work we put into," she said. "Maybe your plane was delayed and you're getting there at 3 in the morning and the show is at 7."
And, on occasion, Meredith still gets nervous before a show.
"But I get into a zone," she said. "Whenever I know I'm doing a big show, it's how you create it in your head, how you let those nerves get to you."
And then there's fashion week.
"You're on plane to plane to plane, she said. "For a week you're in heels. You're doing your walk for all of these designers and hoping all these great designers will pick you the next week for their shows."
Jones-France said people are going to see a lot more of Meredith this year.
"To be in the business you have to be persistent and she has been very persistent. She was cut out for this. Most people would have quit in the first six months, but she didn't," Jones-France said.
"I must have seen a thousand or so people through the agency and a handful had what Ariel had. But you knew from the first time you met her that she was going to be in Sports Illustrated, because that's what she wanted to do," Jones-France said.
Meredith said she doesn't know what the next five years hold but she hopes to continue doing something positive.
"In the next five years I'm hoping to continue my career and start an organization for kids who were adopted like me, to help them and inspire them."
Meredith, who was adopted when she was 3 months old, said had it not been for her parents, she wouldn't be where she is today.
"For me to be adopted, I'm proud of that. I'm proud for my parents and blessed," she said. "They have been so supportive."
Meredith said everything she has been through in her career has been a great journey and a learning experience.
And she said the Sports Illustrated shoot has left her speechless, grateful and humbled.
"I'm excited and I love what I do," she said. "I love that camera."