While Mikayla Holmgren, a contestant in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant on November 25, didn’t go home with the crown, she did win an even bigger prize — 22-year-old Holmgren was the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a Miss USA state pageant.
The Minnesota-native has been participating in pageants since 2015 when she competed in — and won — the Minnesota Miss Amazing pageant, an event specifically designed for women with special needs. After receiving a letter in the mail last April about the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, she decided to sign up, but never thought she would walk away a prize winner.
“I was super shocked, I was in tears,” she told BuzzFeed News via FaceTime after her big win. “I went from a special needs pageant to the biggest pageant in the world. It’s kind of crazy.”
Sandi Holmgren, Mikayla’s mom, stated, “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.”
“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.”
Holmgren not only became the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant ever, she also received the Spirit of Miss USA Award and the Director’s Award.
“You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile and dance,” stated Denise Wallace Heitkamp, executive state director, as she presented Holmgren with her 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.”
Holmgren hopes her efforts and achievements will inspire all young women, with or without disabilities, to pursue their goals and not allow anything to hold them back.
“It’s really, really fun. I love the stage and I’m so proud of myself,” she stated.
Holmgren is currently pursuing a degree at Bethel University in their Inclusive Learning and Development program. She is also an intern in the child care center and an ambassador for Best Buddies, a nonprofit organisation.
Holmgren’s accomplishment is not the first time the Miss USA State pageant has been viewed as a trailblazer recently; last year, a semi-finalist at the event was the first woman to ever wear a hijab during the pageant.