Mikayla Holmgren made history this weekend when she became the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, and as far as pageant officials know, the first in the country.
The 22-year-old Bethel University student looked every part a seasoned pageant competitor as she strutted across the stage, hands on hips, in a coral one-piece bathing suit, then a sequined royal blue gown.
The crowd erupted after Holmgren made her first introduction: "Mikayla Holmgren, 22, Marine on St. Croix!"
While Holmgren didn't take home the crown, she did earn two major awards and a standing ovation from the crowd.
"I didn't expect it," Holmgren said. "I was crying on stage when they told me my friend surprised me with a beautiful note to help me win the Spirit Award."
As Holmgren wiped tears from her eyes and hugged 2017 Miss Minnesota USA Meridith Gould, pageant director Denise Wallace Heitkamp read Holmgren's nomination letter:
"You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile and dance. There is nothing normal about you and why be normal when you can be great? You have never wanted special privileges, but to always be treated like everyone else. You exude the spirit of the Miss USA by always being true to yourself, 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 also took home the Director's Award.
"Mikayla's enthusiasm, as you can see, has motivated us as a staff and her positive presence made her an outstanding contestant," Wallace Heitkamp said.
As for the overall winner, Kalie Wright was crowned Miss Minnesota USA this year, and Peyton Schroeder was named Miss Minnesota Teen USA.
Holmgren made headlines last spring after she applied for the pageant. Following in the pioneering footsteps of Halima Aden, who was the first Miss Minnesota USA contestant to wear a hijab and burkini at the competition, Minnesota contestants are blazing trails of inclusivity in the pageant world.
"She has opened doors and inspired others to give it a try," said Sandi Holmgren, Mikayla's mother. "I met one young lady who said she decided to enter after reading Mikayla's story last spring. She was inspired and said that if Mikayla could do this, then she could, too."
Aden went on to sign with IMG Models, and has landed major modeling jobs, including walking the runway for Kanye West and posing for the cover of Vogue Arabia.
"I would recommend the pageant to anyone because of the opportunities to earn scholarships for school, make new girlfriends and improve your interview skills," Aden said. "Plus it's a lot of fun."
As for what's next for Holmgren?
"I want to do more pageants, but I need [to] first graduate," she said. "I would also like [to] model or do dancing."