Mikayla Holmgren made history Sunday night at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, where she became the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in a state Miss USA pageant.
The 22-year-old Bethel University student from Stillwater, Minnesota, also won two awards: the Spirit of Miss USA Award and the Director’s Award.
Denise Wallace Heitkamp, the executive state director of Miss Minnesota USA, presented Holmgren with the Spirit Award and told the contestant that she makes people cheer and smile every time she speaks.
“You exude the spirit of Miss USA by always being true to yourself and putting others first,” Heitkamp said, according to Pioneer Press. “You have selflessness, humility and the ability to overcome obstacles with a smile on your face and excitement in your heart.”
Holmgren, who competed in the special needs pageant Minnesota Miss Amazing in 2015, told BuzzFeed that she was overwhelmed to be participating in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.
“I was super shocked, I was in tears,” she said. “I went from a special needs pageant to the biggest pageant in the world. It’s kind of crazy.”
Holmgren’s mother, Sandi, told CBS News that she’s proud of her daughter for forging a new path. “She’s going to be a leader and [she] stands firms for others that don’t maybe know how to achieve things,” she said.
Holmgren, who has been dancing since she was 6 years old, performed a dance routine for the pageant’s talent portion.
“Dancing is a good outlet for me. It’s how I express myself,” she told BuzzFeed. “It’s my talent and I want to show people what I can do and how I can give more.”
Jane Bean, whose son also has Down syndrome and is a classmate of Holmgren’s, told Pioneer Press that it was powerful to watch the pageant.
“It’s great for the whole community of disability just to have her here and have her up on stage,” Bean said. “It means that anybody with a disability has a chance — just like anybody else. It’s just fantastic. She’s just showing the world all her abilities.”
See below for more from the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.