Mikayla Holmgren Sets Out to Be First Woman With Down Syndrome in Coveted 'Sports Illustrated' Swimsuit Issue

Mikayla Holmgren, 26, hopes to be chosen for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Vince Torre

Mikayla Holgrem, 26, told Inside Edition Digital that she is not nervous at all but excited and hopeful for all that is to come. “I just want to build awareness for those with special needs and especially those with Down syndrome,” she said. 

If you haven’t met Mikayla Holmgren, here's your chance.

The 26-year-old Minnesota woman is hoping to become the first woman with Down syndrome to be featured in the coveted "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit issue.

In February she submitted her casting tape for the mag's 2021 SI Swim search. Wearing a blue-and-white striped two-piece bathing suit, Holmgren smiles cheerfully and says: ”SI Swim has been such a champion of diversity of beauty, and now is the time to include someone like me [as she points to herself]. I am the first woman with Down syndrome in the Miss USA state pageant.” Then jokes, “I rocked my bathing suit on stage. Now it's time to rock the magazine.” She continues: "All women deserve to be celebrated. We need awareness for those with special needs."

Holmgren told Inside Edition Digital that she is not nervous at all, but excited and hopeful. “I just want to build awareness for those with special needs and especially those with Down syndrome,” she said. 

Over the years, she has garnered many credits to her name, including Special Olympics athlete, gymnast (level 3), golfer, and model. She has been featured in campaigns for Sephora, Rosedale Mall, and Sigma Beauty, and is clearly, no stranger to the spotlight

In 2017, she was proud to participate as the first woman with Down syndrome in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant and in June will be doing it all over again as a contestant in the 2021 pageant.

Holmgren told Inside Edition Digital that she has always up for new challenges." “I have seen other Miss USA contestants do it. And, I said, I want to do this.”

A self-advocate and public speaker, Holmgren has worked with the Minnesota House and Senate to help pass a bill and with the Pennsylvania Congress as part of the Down Syndrome Awareness Act. As well as the United Nations with Holy See, a pro-life panel for Down Syndrome presented to women from around the world that shows the worth of individuals born with Down syndrome.

In 2019, Holmgren spoke in favor of a bill that would outlaw abortions based on Down syndrome diagnoses in Pennsylvania, NPR reported. 

“When I was born six weeks early, the doctors said that I may never walk or talk,” she told the audience at the press conference,  “I proved them wrong.”

She sure did.

In 2018, the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), the leading human rights organization for individuals with Down syndrome, chose Holmgren's video out of 2,400 entries and featured it on a jumbotron in Times Square to kick off their Down syndrome walk in New York City, part of their National Down Syndrome Congress Awareness Week.

Holmgren, a graduate of Bethel University B.U.I.L.D. the program, holds a certification in education and works as a teacher's aide.

Her journey is all about changing social norms and sharing her mission to “Dream Big Without Limits.” She told Inside Edition Digital that “so many people with special needs feel they are limited in what they can do. But if you have a dream, go after it.” 

In between all her activities and projects (add choir and improv classes to the list), she also finds time to be an ambassador for Best Buddies, a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Holmgren, along with her parents, Sandi and Craig, are working on opening up a Best Buddies location in Minnesota.

One of Holmgren's long-term goals is to live independently. Additional goals she hopes to accomplish include having her own clothing and makeup line and owning her own dance studio. Studying dance since she was 6, Holmgren tells us that Misty Copeland is one of her absolute favorite ballerinas.

"She dances so beautiful," she said.

With the pageant approaching, Holmgren said she already has her gown and has been busy working out.

"I live on a lake and I love to do yoga on my paddleboard," she said.

One of the exercises she hopes to perfect though is her strut [down the runway].

“I have a friend who is going to come and help me practice walking in my heels,” she said 

Libby Watkins, who represents Holmgren calls her a "go-getter," and "trailblazer for entering spaces where women like her haven’t before been represented."

"It’s wonderful and necessary that everyone is talking about inclusion right now, and it’s important to note that those with special needs are seemingly one of the most underrepresented groups out there," Watkins said. "To truly showcase the diversity of beauty, featuring Mikayla in SI Swim would send such a powerful message about inclusion and acceptance."

March 21 marked World Down Syndrom Day (WDSD), a day when the Down syndrome community creates a single global voice advocating for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome.  Holmgren is a true example and is a cheerleader as she continues to inspire others: “Don’t be afraid," she said.  "Ask for help if needed. The more you do something the more confidence you will have.” 

Over the years, Sports Illustrated has featured more diverse models celebrating all women. In July 2020, Valentina Sampaio became the first transgender woman to be featured in the magazine. In 2019, the publication featured plus size model Hunter McGrady and Muslim model Halima Aden in a hijab and bikini, MetroUK reported.