Mikayla Holmgren: "Dreaming without limits"

"The biggest accomplishment for her is that she makes such a big impact on society through being herself." —Anna Korger, Miss Minnesota USA contestant and Mikayla Holmgren’s friend.

Mikayla Holmgren believes in “dreaming without limits,” and that’s exactly what she’s doing. 

Holmgren, 23, of Stillwater, made national headlines earlier this year after becoming the first person with Down syndrome to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA contest. She didn’t win the pageant, but still went home with two awards. 

“Ever since she was born in the NICU, she’s had this determination,” said Holmgren’s mother, Sandi said. “She has that attitude that’s she’s going to achieve above what they say she’s going to achieve.” 

Mikayla is passionate about supporting people with disabilities who want to do art or dancing, she said. She showcased both of these passions in the pageant in November.

Mikayla Holmgren, a 23-year-old Bethel University, became the first person with Down syndrome to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA contest in November. Holmgren, shown with 2017 Miss Minnesota USA winner Meridith Gould, won two awards during the competition. (Photo courtesy of Future Productions, LLC) 

“I like doing art with [kids] and teaching kids how to do art,” said Holmgren, a sophomore at Bethel University who’s studying art education.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder affecting a person’s chromosomes. Common symptoms include distinctive facial features, low muscle tone and cognitive impairment.

Mikayla Holmgren

As a child, Mikayla was almost nonverbal, according to Sandi. It was hard for her to fully understand what was going on, which made it challenging for people to communicate with her, she said. Mikayla would get frustrated easily.

Dancing, however, became a big part of Mikayla’s childhood. She started when she was 6 years old. Sandi signed her up for dance after reading an article about how dance can be good for kids with special needs. 

As time passed, Mikayla ended up loving dance. “I like to dance,” she said, “and I love music.”

As she grew older, Mikayla opened up more through activities such as dance. She represented Minnesota in the Junior Miss Amazing pageant in 2015 in Los Angeles and danced during the talent portion.

When Mikayla was interested in applying for Miss Minnesota USA, her family didn’t initially think she would make it, Sandi said. However, in order to satisfy Mikayla, her mom went online and applied, noting that Mikayla has Down syndrome and thinking they wouldn’t hear back. 

But they did. 

The family wasn’t prepared for the next steps, but with the help and encouragement of others, Mikayla competed at the pageant and made history. 

“I’m glad she did it,” Sandi said.

The Miss Minnesota USA pageant is competitive and not everyone makes the cut. Only 15 of the 50 contestants make it to the top of the competition. After the cuts, Mikayla was backstage, comforting the girls who didn’t make it, telling them they were beautiful and encouraging them, her mom said. 

Mikayla did win two awards at the pageant. The first was the Spirit of Miss USA Award. When she was presented with this award, her mother said, people were in tears and excited for Mikayla. She also won the Director’s Award, which was another surprise.

Anna Korger, Mikayla’s best friend and one her “go-to” people, met at the pageant. Korger was inspired by Mikayla’s ambition, she said. 

They also both attend Bethel University, and after the pageant, they would meet up on Wednesdays and practice walking in heels. Korger said she admires that Mikayla is the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in the state pageant, a huge accomplishment. 

“The biggest accomplishment for her is that she makes such a big impact on society through being herself,” Korger said.

After the pageant, Mikayla has continued pursuing her goal to start a dance studio to support people with disabilities to be creative and enjoy life. She is working with state agencies to try to get a grant to start her studio. She wants others to dream big, she said.

“Just because you have a disability doesn't mean that you can’t achieve what you want,” Sandi said. 

Mikayla also was nominated for Miss Congeniality in the first-ever Global Beauty Awards in March in Seattle. She’s the only nominee with Down syndrome. As of February, Mikayla planned to wear a custom-designed black dress.

Her inspiring story continues.

“I inspire people when I smile and bring them joy,” Mikayla said, “and just brighten someone’s day.”