When you think of the Miss USA pageant, what type of girls come to mind? They’re all young, skinny, gorgeous and they can probably twirl a baton really well and want world peace. Well, this next contestant is a beautiful young woman, but she’s different from any of the Miss USA contestants that came before her. Her name is Mikayla Holmgren, and she has Down Syndrome.
Mikayla Holmgren is a 22-year-old woman from Stillwater, Minn. She’s a bubbly young woman who loves to dance. She’s been dancing since she was just six-years-old. “Dancing is a good outlet for me. It’s how I express myself,” she told Buzzfeed. “It’s my talent and I want to show people what I can do and how I can give more.”
Mikayla is currently a college student at Bethel University. She’s also an activist for people with disabilities, people just like her. Mikayla participated in the Special Olympics as a gymnast. She also advocated for people with Down Syndrome in her home state of Minnesota. She also spoke at the Best Buddies Leadership Conference.
In 2015, Holmgren participated and won Minnesota Miss Amazing, a pageant for women and girls with disabilities. On Nov. 26, Holmgren became the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a Miss USA State Pageant. “I was super shocked, I was in tears,” Holmgren said. “I went from a special needs pageant to the biggest pageant in the world. It’s kind of crazy.”
Mikayla’s mom, Sandi Holmgren, said she didn’t even realize that her daughter was set to participate in such a large-scale competition. She got a letter from Miss Minnesota in April and told her mom she wanted to apply. Her mom signed her up, not thinking that she would ever be invited to compete.
“I wrote that she had Down syndrome and thought they would pass her by, but they decided they wanted her to be a part of it,” said Sandi. “I didn’t realize it was part of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageant and it took me a few weeks to realize the enormity of it and what a big deal it was for her to be in.”
Mikayala said that there was a lot of preparation that went into the pageant. She practiced hard, and her mom helped her out. “It is a lot of work,” Mikayla said. “My mom and I were always shopping and then the mock interviews and getting ready and practicing everything and the makeup and hair.”
Holmgren ended up winning two awards in the Miss Minnesota pageant. She won the Spirit of Miss USA Award and the Director’s Award. “You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile and dance,” said Denise Wallace, executive co-director of the pageant, as she presented Holmgren with the award.
“You exude the spirit of Miss USA by always being true to yourself and putting others first. You have selflessness, humility, and the ability to overcome obstacles with a smile on your face and excitement in your heart,” added Wallace. Wallace also went on to say that “Mikayla is a trailblazer.”
Mikayla also inspired other girls with disabilities by competing in the pageant. After learning that Mikayla was competing in the pageant, other women with daughters with Down syndrome, showed up at the event to support Mikayla. “I was overwhelmed,” said Lana Beaton, a mother of a two-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome. “I was full of so much hope and joy and excitement for her and our future.”
One of Mikayla’s classmates who also has Down syndrome, also attended the pageant with his mother, Jane Bean. “It’s great for the whole community of disability just to have her here and have her up on stage,” Bean said. “It means that anybody with a disability has a chance – just like anybody else. It’s just fantastic. She’s just showing the world all her abilities.”
This year wasn’t the first time that the Miss Minnesota pageant set a precedent for the entire Miss USA pageant. Last year, Somali-America Halima Aden, became the first woman to ever wear a hijab and burkini during any Miss USA competition. Following Aden’s example, several other contestants wore hijabs the following year.
It’s also important to note Madeline Stuart. She was the first Down syndrome woman to become a trail blazer in the world of modeling. She has now walked in New York Fashion Week for two years in a row now.
While Holmgren is making a name for herself as the first Down syndrome Miss USA contestant, she said that she does not want to have her Down syndrome define her. “With your help, I can break through walls,” she said. We’re expecting to see some great things come from Mikayla Holmgren in the near future.