Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas said she plans to continue competing, with the ultimate goal of reaching the Olympics.
Most important points:
- Thomas joined the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team after playing on the men’s team for three years
- She won the women’s 500-meter freestyle at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta
- Thomas would need approval from USA Swimming to attempt to qualify for the next Olympics
In an interview aired Tuesday on ABC’s Good Morning America show, Thomas also challenged the arguments of those who say she has an unfair biological advantage that compromises the integrity of women’s athletics.
“Trans women pose no threat to women’s sport,” she said.
Thomas became a leading symbol of transgender athletes – raising both opposition and support – when she joined the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) women’s swim team after playing in the men’s team for three years at Ivy League school.
In March, Thomas won the women’s 500-meter freestyle at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, becoming the first transgender woman to claim a national title in swimming.
She has since graduated from Penn and plans to study law in addition to her goal of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in 2024, which will define the team for the Paris Olympics.
“I plan to keep swimming,” Thomas told ABC.
“It’s been a long-time goal of mine to swim in Olympic trials, and I’d love to get through that.”
USA Swimming has used a review panel since 2018 to make individual decisions on a case-by-case basis. Thomas would need approval from the governing body to attempt to qualify for the next Olympic trials.
Growing up in Austin, Texas, Thomas said she fell in love with swimming at the age of four, but as she got older she felt more and more disconnected from her body.
“I didn’t feel like I was a boy,” she said.
After high school, Thomas earned a spot on Penn’s men’s swim team. But by her second year, she was struggling with deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I barely went to classes. I really could barely get out of bed,” she recalls.
She said she eventually said to herself, “I can’t live like this anymore. I want to live again. I want to be able to do things I enjoy.”
Thomas said a fear of not being able to compete in the sport she loved kept her from switching in the first place. But at the end of her sophomore year, she started hormone replacement therapy.
“The mental and emotional changes actually happened very quickly. I felt a lot better mentally. I was less depressed,” she said.
“And I lost muscle mass and I got a lot weaker and a lot, a lot slower in the water.”
Thomas began swimming on the Penn women’s swim team early in her senior year, following the NCAA guidelines in effect at the time athletes were required to complete a year of hormone replacement therapy to switch genders.
Criticism of Thomas grew as she achieved much more swimming success competing against women than before.
Transgender athletes have now become a prominent political target, with many conservative US states enacting laws requiring high school athletes to compete as the gender they were assigned at birth.
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed a proclamation declaring NCAA runner-up Florida-born Emma Weyant the true winner of the women’s 500 title.
The NCAA has changed the eligibility guidelines for transgender people to allow any sport to follow the rules set by each sport’s national governing body.
Thomas, in the interview with ABC, pushed back some of the criticism she received, especially during her final season, when she rarely spoke to the media. She scoffed at the idea of switching to have more success as a swimmer.
“We’re about to be happy and authentic and be our true selves,” she said.
“Switching to gain an advantage is not something that ever plays a role in our decisions.”
Thomas also said that it is not fair to prevent transgender people from participating in sports, or to limit them to only competing against each other.
“Besides not allowing the full athletic experience, that’s incredibly annoying for transgender people who already face immense discrimination in other areas of our lives,” Thomas said.
She said the highlight of her graduation was hearing her name as Lia Thomas.
“When I actually got to walk across the stage and heard her say my name, it was really cool,” she said.
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