After becoming the first woman with Down syndrome to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA state pageant in 2017, Mikayla Holmgren set her sights on another accomplishment: becoming the first person with Down syndrome in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. While she learned that she did not make the top 15 this year, she isn’t letting that stop her and plans to enter the SI swim search again next year.
“It felt kind of bad,” Holmgren, 26, told TODAY. “I’ll wait until next year to compete.”
Holmgren hoped to be in the publication because she wanted others to see what people with Down syndrome are capable of and hoped for more inclusive beauty standards.
“I wanted to bring awareness for those who have special needs and want to do modeling, like me,” she said. “(I want people to know) I can do those things.”
Mom Sandi said at first she felt a little surprised that Holmgren wanted to model for SI Swimsuit but she supports her daughter wholeheartedly.
“It gives another opportunity to show that those with Down syndrome have so much to share and give,” she told TODAY. “They always say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, of course, we’re prejudiced but we think that those with Down syndrome are some of the most beautiful people in the world.”
Holmgren started her stage career when she enrolled in dance class at 6. She loves all forms of dance and even choreographs her own routines. Dance helped her build her confidence and nurtured a love of performing, modeling and public speaking. In 2015, she participated in and won the Miss Amazing competition in Minnesota, a pageant for people with disabilities. In 2017, she participated in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant and though she didn't win the title, she went home with two awards: the spirit award and director’s award. The crowd and other competitors gave her a standing ovation.
“That spoke volumes of the characters of these participants. I was already crying on stage and I lost it,” Sandi told TODAY in 2017.
Sandi continues to feel amazed by her daughter.
“We just encouraged her to go after her dreams,” she said. “When she was born this little preemie baby that had multiple surgeries and the doctors were like, ‘We don’t know if she’ll ever walk or talk.’ Here she is 26 years later just breaking barriers. She has a story to tell.”
Sandi believes Holmgren changes how many view people with Down syndrome.
“As soon as somebody hears the word Down syndrome they think almost the worst,” she explained. “People need to look past the label and see that there’s so much more inside of them that they need to share.”
Holmgren feels glad that by participating in pageants and applying to be in SI Swimsuit that she’s increasing others’ understanding of Down syndrome.
“It’s building awareness,” she said. “All people do make a difference. Diversity shows others they can do this.”
Holmgren often gives speeches and hopes to make a positive influence on others.
“It was so good to be a role model ... and to stand out,” she said. “I have hopes and dreams. I want everyone to be more empowered.”