Mikayla Holmgren tells Moneyish: “I’m leaving a legacy with my pageants.”
In late November, 22-year Mikayla Holmgren became the first contestant with Down syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant. This most recent competition marked her third beauty pageant — she won the Miss Amazing pageant in Minnesota in 2015 — and Holmgren has no intention of stopping now.
“You’re giving hope to families that have little ones with Down syndrome,” Holmgren tells Moneyish. “I’m leaving a legacy with my pageants: Your dream can come true.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by her fans: One North Dakota family, who has a two-year-old daughter with Down syndrome and saw Mikayla compete, told her: “You’re giving us hope.” Young girls with other issues are also finding inspiration in Holmgren. One, who was afraid to try a pageant because she was overweight, entered the competition only after reading about Mikayla’s story in a local newspaper. “Because [Mikayla’s] going to do it, I’m going to do it,” she told Holmgren and her mom.
Growing up with Down syndrome — a condition that affects some 6,000 babies born in the United States each year — wasn’t easy for Holmgren. “She got bullied a lot in elementary school,” said Sandi Holmgren, Mikayla’s mom, who adds that parents told her “that my child is taking away from their child’s education and that she shouldn’t be in the school.”
It’s why a gang of boys once slammed Holmgren into her locker at school and shut the door, preventing her from getting out until someone heard her banging on the inside. “I was super scared,” Holmgren recalled.
Those experiences meant that Sandi wasn’t always enthusiastic about her daughter’s plan to compete in a beauty pageant. She admits that while she helped her daughter sign up, she was sure Mikayla would be dismissed before the process got too far because of her Down syndrome.
Instead, Miss USA officials told Sandi that Mikayla “has to do it,” after meeting her in person. Sandi agreed, but still asked herself: “Am I really doing the right thing?” Mikayla, on the other hand, was sure it was right for her. “I was really excited, I wanted to do this pageant,” she reflected.
While Mikayla didn’t advance in the Miss USA pageant past the Minnesota state level, she did receive two honors: the Director’s Award and the Spirit of Miss USA Award, for her courage in taking the stage. This, in addition to the fact that she’ll graduate from Bethel University in 2018 (she says she’d love to be the class speaker at graduation) — and has dreams of opening up an art and dance studio one day (she’s been tapping and doing ballet since she was six years old).
Not all the feedback has been positive, though. One male assailant wrote online of her pageant wins that ‘they had to give her a trophy because she has Down syndrome to make everything fair.”
And, of course, there’s also the financial toll of pageant life: Sandi says she and her husband shelled out $1,000 on their daughter’s pageant dress — which is “at the low-end” of the cost spectrum, she added — and are about $12,000 in for Mikayla’s three pageant experiences.
But Mikayla is undeterred, saying that’s she’s ready for another try at Miss USA. After all, Sandi told Moneyish: “Her tagline is: ‘Dream big without limits.’”
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