Embracing Opportunity: Lenoir City native finds modeling success in Miami
 
Lenoir City native Cole Monahan lives his life as a professional model by staying uncomfortable.

The 23-year-old's muscled physique and handsome looks drew him away from his hometown in fall 2014 to pursue a modeling career in Miami with Elite Model Management.

He's amassed a plethora of opportunities since then. He met famous fashion photographer Bruce Weber, traveled to a number of countries, appeared in a Polo Ralph Lauren commercial and Hard Rock Cafe and Ron Jon Surf Shop advertisements and was featured in magazines including Vulkan, Jon, Fantastics and Cosmopolitan International.

Monahan didn't get those opportunities by sticking to the same routine each day.

"It's really easy to get comfortable around home, I guess, wherever home is. ... I've learned it's best to stay uncomfortable, really," said Monahan in Knoxville's 18 Karat Model and Talent Management office building while he was on a break for the holidays. "It keeps you on your toes. You'll learn a lot more, and it's fun too if you like the spontaneity.

"There's so much more to see out there, and I never really realized exactly how much."

Monahan said moving to Miami to model has changed his life in "every possible way." He had never flown on a plane before leaving for Florida on Oct. 13, 2014.

Now, he may get a day's notice before he has to go to another country for a job. So far, he's traveled to New York, California, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Mexico.

"You'll get a 'hey, pack your bags in 24 hours, you're leaving for Costa Rica' or something like that," he said. "And so, yeah, there's spontaneity, meeting new people, different cultures.

"You have to really have to pay attention to how you hold yourself wherever you go 'cause as you get larger in this industry, people do start to recognize you wherever you go ... you really have to be your best everywhere you go."

In addition to traveling and being featured in magazines and advertisements, Monahan dedicates time every day to working out, maintaining good nutrition and preparing for and going to castings, where he tries out for modeling jobs. Castings involve posing, showing off his walk, getting his number of Instagram followers checked, trying on clothes and more.

"You've got to go in there super confident," said Monahan, tucking some of his flowing, shoulder-length behind an ear. "You see a lot of the same models at these castings even though they're from different agencies, and you make great friends with them, but at the same time, it's a competition."

Monahan lives with three other male models in Miami. Despite the city's popular party scene, he said he doesn't go to clubs a lot and stays focused on his career by thinking about new opportunities, one being his recent contract with another modeling company, D' Management, which has worked with model and television host Tyra Banks and actress Katie Holmes.

D' Managment looks for clients for Monahan in Italy while Elite finds jobs for him in Miami. "It's like you have two people working for you at once, helping you book jobs ... you can be with plenty more agencies at the same time," said Monahan.

Currently, Monahan will continue to go to castings and said he hopes to visit Milan, Italy. Beyond modeling, he would like to get his feet wet with voice-over work, singing and acting in the future.

"As far as the immediate future, you know, I'm not trying to hit a big home run here," said Monahan. "I'm not trying to become an overnight star or anything like that. I want to slowly but surely build a recurring clientele.

"I want to keep modeling until I'm 40-plus years old. Males have the opportunity to do that, where females, generally, they start younger; if they're modeling past 30, they're very fortunate."

Monahan did have to change a bit when he decided he wanted to become a model in February 2013. The former Lenoir City High School football player, who was working for the U.S. Post Office and at a restaurant, walked into Knoxville's 18 Karat Talent and Model Management at around 240 pounds.

"(18 Karat CEO and President Cindy Swicegood) was like 'well, you've got the look, but you're as big as a house,'" laughed Monahan. "Over a year and a half process really, that's when she started to educate me about the industry, at the same time, going through weight loss just a full body transformation."

After slimming down to 190 pounds and doing four photo shoots, he caught the attention of Elite and signed with them in 2014. Monahan said Swicegood still mentors him even though they live miles apart now.

"We talk every day," he said. "We discuss business plans ... she's done so much for me. I can't even begin to explain it really."

He's also amazed by the support he's received from Knoxville and Tennessee in general. From thoughtful messages from locals, friends, family and strangers to words of advice from Swicegood, it all pushes him to go to the next level.

"(People) telling me that I inspire them," he said. "That's probably my favorite part about this job, honestly, that I really know that I'm affecting other people, and once you realize that ... it gives you the incentive to keep pushing forward, pushing harder and almost feel like if you were to quit, you'd be letting a lot of people down. That's kind of how I feel."

The hectic lifestyle of modeling and the opportunities it's given him haven't changed who he is on the inside.

"It's a huge thing to stay grounded and not let it go to your head," said Monahan. "I don't want anybody to ever think of me differently than, you know, (the) goofy Cole Monahan that I was before. I may be a model ... but I'm still the same guy that I'm always going to be."

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1/13/16