Woman hopes to become the first ‘Sports Illustrated’ swimsuit model with Down syndrome

Mikayla Holmgren is no ordinary woman.

The 26-year-old from Minnesota has achieved many things in her relatively young life, and now, Mikayla is about to take on a new goal—to be the first model with Down syndrome to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Mikayla Holmgren filming her Sports Illustrated Swim Issue casting video

In February, she sent in her casting tape for the mag’s 2021 Sports Illustrated Swim search. Donning a blue-and-white striped two-piece bathing suit, Mikayla smiles and says:

“Sports Illustrated 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. I rocked my bathing suit on stage. Now it’s time to rock the magazine. All women deserve to be celebrated. We need awareness for those with special needs.”

Used to being in the spotlight, Mikayla didn’t feel nervous at all. She’s just excited and hopeful for what’s to come. After all, she aims to fulfill a purpose bigger than herself.

“I just want to build awareness for those with special needs and especially those with Down syndrome,” she said.

Mikayla Holmgren

Mikayla is a true go-getter who wears many hats. She is a Special Olympics athlete, a gymnast (level 3), a golfer, and a model. She’s also been featured in campaigns for Sephora, Rosedale Mall, and Sigma Beauty.

One of her greatest achievements is being the first woman with Down syndrome to participate in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant in 2017. This June, she will be doing it all over again.

“I have seen other Miss USA contestants do it. And, I said, I want to do this,” she said.

With the pageant approaching, Mikayla has been very busy working out. She lives on a lake and loves to do yoga on her paddleboard. But one of the moves she would like to perfect is her runway strut.

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

Mikayla Holmgren during the Miss Minnesota USA pageant

Mikayla, a public speaker and a self-advocate, 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.

She has also teamed up with the United Nations with Holy See, a pro-life panel for Down Syndrome that aims to show the worth of individuals born with this condition.

In 2019, Mikayla spoke in support of a bill that would outlaw abortions based on Down syndrome diagnoses in the state of Pennsylvania. During the event, she told the audience at the press conference about her birth story.

She was born six weeks early, and the doctors said she might never walk or talk. But she defied these expectations and is now thriving in her beautiful way.

The hopeful Sports Illustrated model Mikayla Holmgren wearing a blue dress doing a ballerina pose

Mikayla is a graduate of the Bethel University B.U.I.L.D. program and holds a certification in education. Now, she is able to make her own living as a teacher’s aide.

Mikayla wants to change social norms not only for people with Down syndrome but also for individuals with other special needs.

She knows that so many people with disabilities feel like they are limited in what they can do. But she wants them to realize that they can reach their dreams. Hoping to become a Sports Illustrated model is just one of her many goals.

Although she already has a lot on her plate, Mikayla still finds time to be an ambassador for Best Buddies, a nonprofit that creates opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Mykala sitting in the sofa thinking which swimsuit to wear for sports illustrated shoot.

Together with her parents, Sandi and Craig, she’s also working to open up a Best Buddies chapter in Minnesota.

As for her long-term personal goals, Mikayla hopes to be able to live independently. She also wants to start her clothing and makeup line and own a dance studio.

Since she was six, she has been studying dance and said Misty Copeland is one of her favorite ballerinas because she “dances so beautiful.”

Thank you, Mikayla, for the work that you do for the special needs community. We’re all rooting for you, and we hope you continue to break down barriers!

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