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For many people, competing in a national beauty pageant might seem like an accomplishment beyond their wildest dreams. But one woman has smashed barriers and made a name for herself by not only competing at state level, but also receiving two awards.
Mikayla Holmgren, from Stillwater, Minnesota has made history as the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in a Miss USA pageant nationwide.
She won the Spirit of Miss USA Award and the Director's Award in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant this past weekend, which selects the state's representative at the national Miss USA pageant.
"I was super shocked, I was in tears," Mikayla told BuzzFeed News. "I went from a special needs pageant to the biggest pageant in the world. It's kind of crazy."
Holmgren, who has been dancing since she was six years old, is a current student at Bethel University's Inclusive Learning and Development program and hopes to graduate in 2018. She also works as an ambassador for Best Buddies, a nonprofit organisation that helps people with disabilities build relationships and life skills.
She decided she wanted to take on the Miss Minnesota pageant after winning Minnesota Miss Amazing, a pageant for women with disabilities in 2015, and her achievement speaks for itself.
"I wrote that she had Down syndrome and thought they would pass her by but they decided they wanted her to be a part of it," Holmgren's mum, Sandi, told Buzzfeed. "I didn't realise it was part of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageant and it took me a few weeks to realise the enormity of it and what a big deal it was for her to be in."
A shocked and delighted Holmgren proved popular with the audience and the judges alike, receiving a standing ovation from the audience and being chosen to receive two awards.
"You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile, and dance," Denise Wallace Heitkamp, executive state director, said as she presented Holmgren with the Spirit Award.
"You exude the spirit of Miss USA by always being true to yourself and 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 says she wants to 'blaze the trail' and show a different side to Down syndrome, where women and girls with developmental disabilities can take part in the same beauty and talent competitions as other women.
"I want to do some modeling and more dancing," Holmgren said. "I have a big future."
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