Meet Mikayla Holmgren, an inspiring young woman who is showing the world that a Down Syndrome diagnosis won’t stop her from chasing her dreams and who is inspiring others to do the same. Mikayla is a Best Buddies Ambassador, Board Member, and Champion. She was the first woman with Down Syndrome to run in the state Miss USA pageant. She won the 2019 MN Miss Amazing award. She’s been a guest on The Jason Show three times. She’s also spoken at the United Nations in New York City.
Below, she talks about all of these things as well as her passion for dance, some of her favorite experiences from Best Buddies conferences and her excitement about being involved in setting up a Best Buddies office in her home state of Minnesota.
MTEAM: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
MIKAYLA HOLMGREN: My Name is Mikayla and I live in Minnesota on a lake with my mom and dad. My life is so full. I have many passions. My biggest passion is dance. I have danced since I was six. I have been involved in dance troupes, Pom and Cheer Squads. I enjoy dancing jazz, ballet, lyrical, hip hop and pointe. I have, and still do, compete at dance competitions. I choreograph my own solos. I have won numerous awards.
My other passion is art. I enjoy drawing, painting and photography.
I am involved in the Special Olympics. I am a gold medalist for Gymnastics level 3. I also play unified golf with my dad. Sometimes we get gold. Sometimes we get bronze. But we always have fun. This is my time to spend with dad.
I am a college graduate. I graduated from Bethel University’s BUILD program in 2018. I was able to learn life skills and independence. I worked toward getting a certificate in education. I was on their dance team and in choir.
MTEAM: You’re an Ambassador, Board Member and a Champion for Best Buddies! How long have you been doing each of these roles and what do they entail?
MH: I became an Ambassador for Best Buddies two years ago. I was running at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant and was looking for a platform. I heard about Best Buddies through the TV series “Born This Way”. When we called the Best Buddies office, they immediately got me involved. Last year, I became a Board Member and Champion as we worked towards opening an office in Minnesota. (We do not have an office yet, but hope to open one in January of 2020).
As a Ambassador, I learn to be a self-advocate and to be a voice in sharing about inclusion. As a Board Member, I get to give input as to what we want for our Minnesota chapter. As a Champion, I am chosen to help raise funds to open the state office. I get to hold mini fundraisers and collect donations online. I raised $13,000 last year and I hope to raise $15,000 this year.
MTEAM: What value has Best Buddies brought to your own life?
MH: Being a part of Best Buddies has brought me lots of new friends. I enjoy going to conferences every year. This year, my roommate Brittani was involved in pageants and gymnastics. We became friends instantly. She was my Buddy for the weekend. I wish she lived closer to me.
I am also able to go through Ambassador training, in which they help us write speeches and teach us to be self-advocates.
MTEAM: What are some of the coolest things you’ve been able to do through your involvement with Best Buddies?
MH: Being a part of Best Buddies, I’ve done so much.
At Conferences, I have spoken and danced, been part of the opening and closing ceremonies, the fashion shows, and a panel for students to ask us questions.
I was Co-Emcee at last year’s Minnesota Champion of the Year Gala alongside Christina Palladino from FOX9.
I shared the stage with Anthony Shrivers’ two daughters, Eunice and Francesca, as he explained that he would love to see the same opportunities for me, and all of those with Intellectual disabilities, as his daughters get to have.
I have met some incredible people, including, several members of Born This Way (Megan, Steven, JT, Kalie), actress Lauren Potter, and a Bachelor named Connor!
MTEAM: Do you have a favorite memory from any of the past Best Buddies events you’ve attended?
MH: My favorite and very touching memory of Best Buddies was at last year’s conference. I was asked to choreograph and dance to a choir of Best Buddies singing “A Million Dreams”. This performance was dedicated to the Best Buddies Parkland High students who were killed. It was very moving and everyone cried.
MTEAM: Has your involvement with Best Buddies in any way influenced your career plans for the future?
MH: Being a part of Best Buddies has made me more outspoken. I will work with children to be able to show them what inclusion looks like. I would love to have my own dance studio someday and to show that those with IDDs can have their own businesses.
MTEAM: Are you partnered with a buddy of your own at the moment?
MH: I am not currently partnered with a buddy. We are still on the ground level getting our office up and running in our state. But once it is up and running, I will be paired with someone. I can’t wait. I hope it is someone like my friend, Brittani from the conference!
MTEAM: Who is someone you’ve met, through your advocacy for people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, who really inspires you and why?
MH: I would say Megan Bomgaars, from Born This Way. We met two years ago at the Best Buddies conference. I had watched her show and was excited when I got to meet her. I loved how she can get in front of people and talk as a self advocate and tell them not to limit her and those with IDDs. I love that she started her own business “Megology”. She is an amazing lady. Over the past two years, we have become good friends. We FaceTime. She inspires me to be my best and to go after my dreams.
MTEAM: You were the first woman with Down syndrome to run in the state Miss USA pageant. You won 2019 MN Miss Amazing. You were a guest on The Jason Show. How you hope to inspire and empower others through these experiences and others like them?
MH: When I signed up for the Pageant, I did not know that it was “THE PAGEANT” . I just wanted to do it. When I realized what pageant it was and that I was going to be the first woman with Down Syndrome to run, I wanted to inspire others. The morning of the pageant, I text my mom that “I was going to be awareness for those with special needs”. I want to show the world that we are capable of doing so much.
As Minnesota Miss Amazing, I can use it as a platform to talk to groups about inclusion and what that means.
I have been on the Jason Show three times. Again, it is to show what we are able to achieve. Jason is so fun, and I hope to be on again.
I have had so many people tell me that they were inspired to do something because of seeing me on stage, in the pageant or on the Jason show. That is what I want. To inspire people go after their own dreams.
MTEAM: You spoke at a women’s conference at the United Nations on Saving Down Syndrome. What was that experience like?
MH: It was so cool to be at the United Nations and in New York City. It is some place that I never thought I would see. I met women from all over the world who wanted to take a photo with me.
MTEAM: Can you tell us briefly some of the points you made in your speech at the UN?
MH: When I speak, I tell about how the doctors did not believe that I would be able to walk or talk because of medical issues from me being premature and because I had lost oxygen. I believe that I am here to share my story and to show that those with Down Syndrome can reach for the stars and achieve. I tell people to look past the disability and see the ability.
MTEAM: What are the key things that would make this world a more inclusive place for people who have Down Syndrome?
MH: We need to teach and train others what Down Syndrome is like. We need to train employers. We need to train students. We need people to not be afraid to reach out to be a friend. Mostly it takes kindness. Just be kind to everyone.