Mikayla Holmgren was the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant Sunday night, making history and breaking down a barrier for women with cognitive disabilities everywhere.
Holmgren—also believed to be the first woman with Down syndrome to compete nationwide—was named the recipient of the pageant’s annual Spirit and Director’s awards. The 22-year-old got a standing ovation as she accepted.
“You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile and dance,” said Denise Wallace Heitkamp, executive state director, as she read from Mikayla’s nomination letter for 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.”
Mikayla Holmgren, the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA contest, is interviewed after the pageant in Burnsville. Holmgren, 22, of Marine on St. Croix, won the Spirit Award and the Directors Award. pic.twitter.com/GOx3kmTmfx— Mary Divine (@MaryEDivine) November 27, 2017
“I was super shocked, I was in tears,” the 22-year-old from Stillwater, Minnesota, told BuzzFeed News Sunday night. “I went from a special needs pageant to the biggest pageant in the world. It’s kind of crazy.”
The Pioneer Express reported that several mothers brought their daughters who have Down syndrome to watch the pageant.
“Mikayla is breaking down barriers,” said Mary Lynn Loegering, who brought her 10-year-old daughter Emily, said. “It’s fabulous to have people with disabilities become just part of normal, everyday society. She is a total groundbreaker in that area. Her smile and enthusiasm are contagious. It’s fantastic. She is showing the world all her abilities.”
Holmgren’s parents told the Pioneer Express they have always encouraged her to pursue goals she wants to accomplish and experience everything she wishes.
“We have always treated her as a child first, and her Down syndrome is secondary,” Sandi Holmgren said. “She had an interview once and she said, ‘Yeah, I have a little Down syndrome on the side,’ and we just cracked up. You know, that’s kind of where she puts it. Because we all have some kind of disability.”