Making history as the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant nationwide, 22-year-old Mikayla Holmgren won the Spirit of Miss USA Award and the Director’s Award this year at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.

“I was super shocked, I was in tears,” she recalled. “I went from a special needs pageant to the biggest pageant in the world. It’s kind of crazy.”

Since she was 6 years old, Holmgren has been using dance to reach people and feels extremely comfortable being onstage. “Dancing is a good outlet for me. It’s how I express myself,” she explained. “It’s my talent and I want to show people what I can do and how I can give more.”

Back in 2015, Holmgren won Minnesota Miss Amazing, a pageant for women with disabilities. This past April, she received a letter about Miss Minnesota and immediately knew it was a challenge she wanted to accept. She “bugged her mom” incessantly until she let her apply.

“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,” her mom, Sandi Holmgren, said. “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.”

When she was presented with her awards at the pageant, Holmgren was a vision in a blue lace gown that perfectly complemented the indescribable look of joy on her face.

“You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile, and dance,” executive state director, Denise Wallace Heitkamp, said as she presented the Spirit 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.”

Now, Holmgren has many plans for the future. In 2018, she will graduate from Bethel University’s Inclusive Learning and Development program. In addition to interning at the university’s child care center, Holmgren is also an ambassador for Best Buddies, a nonprofit that takes those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and cultivates necessary relationships and life skills for them to succeed on their own.

She also choreographs all of her routines and added that, “I want to do some modeling and more dancing. I have a big future.” We’re excited for all Holmgren will accomplish in that big future she has ahead of her.

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