Twin inspires UCSD swimmer to raise Down syndrome awareness

SAN DIEGO -- Julia Toronczak loves the water, a small part of why she swam for UC San Diego swim team. But the bigger part is her connection with her twin brother Michael, who shares a passion for the water -- but in a much different way.

The 21-year-old twins share a special bond but lead very different lives.

"Michael, he doesn't talk like you or I do," said Julia. "I mean he understands everything. We're super close and people always ask are you telepathic and sometimes I wonder, maybe we are."

Michael was born with a form of Down syndrome so severe that he's unable to speak.

"I just don't think about it too much," said Julia. "I can always get caught up in the fact that what if I had Down syndrome and Michael didn't and it was different? I take it as a blessing."

Julia, a West Hills High School graduate, has earned All-American honors four times at UCSD with a specialty in the 200-yard backstroke. She says she chose to stay close to home because of her brother.

"Knowing that he may not fully understand why I'm gone, that's kind of my inspiration, that's really why I wanted to stay close," said Julia. "Even though I'm only 20 minutes away, it's still really hard for him."

Julia says La Jolla Shores beach plays an important role in their relationship because it's where Michael feels his happiest, but it's also part of the inspiration behind her blog, Beyond the Waves.

"It's not talked about enough," said Julia. "You don't hear enough activism about it. There's a lot of negative connotation around the disabled community so I want to shed more light, shed my own story and I think that's the best way to really teach people about it."

Julia, a biology major, wants to pursue integrative medicine but says she hasn't decided where she'll attend graduate school because of her brother. What she does have an answer for is the desire to keep Michael somewhere close to the water.

"I think the white water in the ocean, just like that white noise, just really calms him down a lot and it's nice to look at," said Julia. "As a swimmer, when you're swimming around in the ocean, waves are not really fun to deal with but it's my inspiration. It's looking past the difficulties and seeing the benefit and beauty from that."