Since 1952, the Miss USA pageant has been an iconic part of American pop culture. The pageant has helped to launch the careers of many gorgeous, intelligent and powerful women, including Ali Landry (below), Olivia Culpo, Kenya Moore and others. Now Miss USA has another inspiring woman to add to their list of contestants: Mikayla Holmgren.
Holmgren is more than just the average hard-working pageant participant. This 22-year-old also has Down syndrome. In fact, she is the first and only woman with Down syndrome who has ever participated in Miss USA.
Holmgren hails from Stillwater, Minnesota, where she has been a performer since the age of six. She loves to dance, and told Buzzfeed, “Dancing is a good outlet for me. It’s how I express myself.”
Here she is showing off her dance skills during her floor routine in a gymnastics competition:
Holmgren’s journey to the Miss USA pageant began after she won the crown for Miss Amazing. This is a pageant celebrating women with special needs, and their goal is to create a world where girls and women with disabilities have equal opportunities to reach their fullest potential.
After her big win, Holmgren received a letter inviting her to apply to be part of the Miss USA pageant.
She was over-the-moon with her excitement, but her mom was a little more cautious. She told Buzzfeed:
“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.”
It certainly is a big deal! Holmgren went on to win two awards in the competition, including the Spirit of Miss USA Award and the Director’s Award.
Below, Miss South Africa 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (center L), embraces Miss Teen USA 2017, Sophia Dominguez-Heithoff (center R), as she is named the 2017 Miss Universe during the 2017 Miss Universe Pageant at The Axis at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino on Nov. 26, 2017 in Las Vegas.
The Spirit of Miss USA Award is chosen based on letters the judges receive from the contestants’ family and friends, and letters about Holmgren’s spirit, courage and strength made her a shoo-in for it.
As for life after the pageant, Holmgren will return to Bethel University in Minnesota, where she will graduate in 2018. But this college student has left her mark on the millions of people who were inspired by her part in Miss USA, especially those young girls who might feel as though their differences hold them back from achieving their dreams.
As Holmgren said, “I have a big future,” and so do all the young girls who are looking up to this inspirational woman.
[H/t: ABC News]