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Miss USA contest
The final five contestants including Miss District of Columbia USA Kara McCullough, second from right, stand on stage during the Miss USA contest Sunday, May 14, 2017, in Las Vegas. McCullough, a 25-year-old chemist working for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was crowned Miss USA. (AP Photo/John Locher)

A woman with Down syndrome became the first to compete in a Miss USA state pageant



A woman with Down syndrome is believed to be the first with her condition to compete in a Miss USA pageant at the state level nationwide, according to The Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

The Pioneer Press on Sunday reported that Mikayla Holmgren, 22, also became the first woman with the genetic disorder to compete in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant that evening.

Holmgren – who hails from Marine on St. Croix – was additionally awarded the Miss Minnesota USA Spirit Award and the Director’s Award.

“I’m so excited,” said Holmgren, a dancer and gymnast, after receiving the honors at the Ames Center in Burnsville. “I can’t believe it.”

Executive state director Denise Wallace Heitkamp read from Holmgren’s nomination letter for the Spirit Award prior to giving her the honor.

“You make people smile every time you talk, cheer, smile and dance,” she said. “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.”

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Holmgren is a student at Bethel University’s Inclusive Learning and Development program in Arden Hills.

The program is a two-year post-secondary initiative for students with intellectual disabilities, and Holmgren plans on graduating in 2018.

Holmgren’s parents set up a GoFundMe page prior to her win Sunday to help pay some of the $3,400 in expenses they experienced.

“We had people [from] Texas, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, Maine, Maryland, almost every state,” said Sandi Holmgren, who is Mikayla Holmgren’s mother.

“It’s been overwhelming,” she added, noting donations also came in from Canada. “We can’t thank people enough.”

Mikayla Holmgren also works with Best Buddies International, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote one-on-one friendships for people with certain disabilities.

The group also fosters integrated employment and leadership development for those with developmental and intellectual challenges like Down syndrome.

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