Thomas became one of the main symbols of transgender athletes – sparking both opposition and support – when she joined Penn’s women’s swim team after competing for three years on the Ivy School’s men’s team. League.
In March, Thomas won the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, becoming the first transgender woman to win a national title in swimming. She has since graduated from Penn and plans to attend law school, in addition to pursuing her goal of qualifying for the 2024 US Olympic swimming trials which will determine the team for the Paris Games.
“I plan to keep swimming,” Thomas told ABC. “It’s been a goal of mine to swim at the Olympic Trials for a very long time, and I would love to achieve it.”
USA Swimming has used a review panel to make individual decisions on a case-by-case basis since 2018. Thomas would need approval from the governing body to try to qualify for the upcoming Olympic trials.
Thomas, who grew up in Austin, Texas, said she fell in love with swimming when she was 4, but felt increasingly disconnected from her body as she got older.
“I didn’t feel like a boy,” she said.
After high school, Thomas earned a spot on Penn’s men’s swim team. But by her second year, she battled deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I was barely going to class. I could barely get out of bed,” she recalled, finally saying to herself, “I can’t live like this anymore. I want to live again. I want to be able to do things that I enjoy. »
Thomas said the fear of not being able to compete in the sport she loved prevented her from making the transition initially. But at the end of her second year, she started hormone replacement therapy.
“The mental and emotional changes actually happened very quickly. I felt much better mentally. I was less depressed,” she said. “And I lost muscle mass and got a lot weaker and a lot, a lot slower in the water.”
Thomas began swimming on Penn’s women’s swim team early in her senior year, following NCAA guidelines at the time that athletes must complete a year of hormone replacement therapy to change gender categories. .
Thomas’ scrutiny increased as she achieved far more success in swimming against women than before.
Transgender athletes have now become a high political target, with many conservative states passing laws that require high school athletes to compete according to the gender they were assigned at birth.
Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a proclamation declaring Florida-born NCAA runner-up Emma Weyant the true winner of the women’s 500m title.
The NCAA has changed its transgender eligibility guidelines to allow each sport to follow the rules established by each sport’s national governing body.
Thomas, in the interview with ABC, pushed back on some of the criticism she received particularly during her senior season, when she rarely spoke to the media. She scoffed at the idea that she had made the transition in order to be more successful as a swimmer.
“We’re transitioning to being happy and authentic and ourselves,” she said. “Transitioning to gain an advantage is never factored into our decisions.”
Thomas also said it’s not fair to prevent transgender people from participating in sports or to limit them to only competing against each other.
“Apart from not allowing the full sporting experience, it’s incredibly different for trans people who already face immense discrimination in other parts of our lives,” Thomas said.
She said the highlight of graduating from college was hearing her name called Lia Thomas.
“When I got to walk across the stage and hear them say my name,” she said, “it was very cool.”
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