windsorlife.com

The Thrill of the Race

Competitive Swimmer Julia Lane Set 
to Compete in the Down Syndrome
World Swimming Championships in Portugal

Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Photography by Alex Leishman Photography

Julia Lane began collecting a list of achievements and awards in competitive swimming in 2014, and she’s not done striving for more yet. 

Prior to the pandemic, Julia had achieved seven world records, which she plans to recapture this October at the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships in Albufeira, Portugal. Five of those records were beaten by other swimmers over the past two years, but Julia still holds two World and multiple Americas records. 

“Julia loves to compete,” her mother Cynthia recounts that look in Julia’s eyes when she’s getting ready for a race. “She’s so focused on doing well and winning. It’s just in her; you can’t instill that. 

Julia was inspired to begin swimming after seeing her sister in the pool. She had spent a large portion of her young life watching swimmers in the pool, and she didn’t want to sit on the sidelines anymore. Her parents and sister were involved with the local Special Olympics swim program and Julia was ready to join.  She began swimming with one of the WAC (Windsor Aquatic Club) coaches in her backyard pool to develop some basic swim skills, allowing her to join the Special Olympics team. After that, Julia started swimming with the WAC as a para swimmer.

In those early years, Julia moved through various swim levels from beginner onward and started attending competitions including regional meets, provincial meets and even the Eastern Canadian championships. She also began as the first member of the Westview Freedom Academy High School swim team and attended OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) for four consecutive years where she earned medals in the para division. She attended the Special Olympics Provincial Games for swimming in 2016.  That same year, Julia’s parents learned about DSISO (Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization) and the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships. This would provide Julia with another venue to compete with her peers. She was able to achieve the qualifying times and was off to Truro, Nova Scotia in 2018 for the 9th Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships. Here, Julia was part of the first Canadian female relay team made up of swimmers with Down syndrome. They’d finally had enough females to enter a relay team and it was incredible to meet and compete with her fellow team members from Saskatchewan, and Quebec. These championships left a significant mark on Julia’s swimming journey and she’s been hooked ever since.  

Julia draws her success from beyond the pool and she learned to do this after that first race in Truro. Even though her relay team came in 4th and personally she came in top 10’s and top 5’s, Julia’s coach said that if she wanted to get faster, she needed to become stronger and to do more than just swim. This is when Julia joined CrossFit. 

Right as Julia was returning from Truro, Matt and Stephanie Seguin from the Chasing Hazel Foundation along with John Mack from All Levels CrossFit launched their Adaptive Athlete Pilot Program in August of 2018.  What started as a program of three athletes has now grown to eight individuals, including Julia. “CrossFit has made me stronger and the movements have helped my swimming,” Julia says. Many of the swim movements are similar to activities and exercises in CrossFit and these have helped to strengthen her core. This strength training helped to significantly improve Julia’s swim times, and she began breaking Women’s World Down Syndrome swimming records. This dedication to her sport led to her being awarded a WESPY (Windsor Essex Sports Person of the Year) award in the parasport division in early 2020.

CrossFit has become so much more than an addition to her swimming regiment, it’s become one of Julia’s passions. Since starting CrossFit four years ago, Julia achieved 1st place worldwide in the inaugural Women’s Adaptive Intellectual Division at the CrossFit open in 2021 and placed third in the same competition this year. She recently attended the Podium and medal ceremony in Madison, Wisconsin to recognize her achievements.

Julia says that the gym doesn’t just strengthen her body, it also gives her a sense of community; her favorite part of both swimming and CrossFit is being part of a team. “What motivates me now is racing, doing well, plus community and friendship,” Julia says. Her mother adds that even if Julia isn’t competing herself, she will watch her teammate’s races via livestream and she’ll hear Julia cheering them on. 

Front row (l-r) are Melanie Giroux, Lindsey Reimer, Julia Lane and Jade Harvey. Back row (l-r) are Darcy Irwin and Sallie Szanik. Photo by Brian Lane.

Julia’s personal drive is reinforced by the community that she surrounds herself with. She has a private swim coach and a private CrossFit instructor to help her prepare for meets and competitions. She attends group CrossFit workouts three times a week and is in the pool practicing with the Windsor Aquatic Club team five to six times a week. She is also a member of CDSSA (the Canadian Down Syndrome Swimming Association) which is the National Team representing Canada at the Championships in Portugal. 

Julia’s coaches help her to stay physically fit but also make sure that her health, nutrition, and hydration is on par for an athlete of her caliber. “My coaches help me focus on areas that I need to develop and help me to learn from my areas of improvement,” Julia says. They also help to keep Julia’s head in the game during a match and will tell her, “Don’t look at your competition. Visualize the race and look towards yourself.” Along with the advice to always listen to her coach, to practice, practice, practice, she has adopted the slogan “to show up and put in the work”.

Putting in the work is exactly what Julia has done. Throughout the pandemic, Julia continued to attend meets when possible, swim with her club, and even maintained her CrossFit schedule by participating in online sessions while working out in her garage. 

The DSISO (Down Syndrome International Swimming Organization) event normally occurs every two years however the 2020 championships were canceled at the start of the pandemic. Since things have opened up again, Julia has traveled across Ontario and Michigan competing to ensure that she could obtain the required sanctioned times to compete in Portugal. 

Along with her career focus of regaining her world records in swimming and to place first again in the CrossFit games, her main personal goal is to change the stereotypes; that her success isn’t about her disability, it’s about her achievements. 

“I feel happy with my accomplishments. It’s exciting! And I’m trying to be a role model for other people; for everyone in the world, but especially for new swimmers or members of the gym,” Julia says. 

Her journey in swimming is just beginning; competitors will continue to surpass each other’s records, but she says that’s all part of the fun. Julia will continue striving to do and be her best, all the while embracing her favorite parts of swimming: the thrill of the race and the friendships she’s made.

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