A trans university swimmer attacked by right-wing media for smashing records in her first meet as a woman says she expected some "pushback" but has chosen not to "engage" in the nasty online debate.
Over the weekend, Lia Thomas—now a member of the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team after three years on the men’s team—smashed multiple swimming records at the Zippy Invitational in Ohio, according to People. She came in first during Friday’s 500-freestyle finals, breaking a national record with 4:34.06. On Saturday, she set another record in the 200-yard freestyle. And on Sunday, she broke yet another record in the 1,650-yard freestyle.
The New York Post Editorial Board slammed Thomas in an essay on Thursday, calling the swimmer “selfish” for competing among women. Citing an anonymous female teammate, the column mentioned how unhappy other members of the swim team supposedly are to have Thomas as a member.
“Pretty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this,” the teammate reportedly said. “Our coach just really likes winning.”
“Most of the women are too afraid to speak out against this. But they must,” Megyn Kelly posted on Twitter.
“If Michael Phelps began competing as a transgender woman, all hell would break loose – so why is nothing being done to stop trans athletes like Lia Thomas from destroying women's sport?” Piers Morgan wrote.
Thomas, though, in an interview with the SwimSwam Podcast, said that the guidelines from the International Olympic Committee for intersex and trans athletes are fair, with rules that are inclusive and “promote competition integrity” while allowing athletes to compete in whatever category makes them comfortable.
Thomas said she first realized that she was trans during the summer of 2018, and felt a lot of confusion concerning her future as a swimmer. She finished out the 2018-19 year competing in men’s races without coming out, which she said caused her a lot of stress.
“I was struggling. My mental health was not very good. It was a lot of unease, basically just feeling trapped in my body. It didn’t align,” she told SwimSwam. “After a year of that...I decided it was time to come out and start my transition.”
That happened in May of 2019, and Thomas came out to her teammates as trans in the fall of that year. She said that teammates, coaches, and staff within the athletics department have been supportive during the process.
“Being in the early stages of transition, it was a very awkward experience of basically being a woman competing in a men’s meet. It was uncomfortable. So, I didn’t compete that much,” she said.
NCAA rules state that a trans woman can continue to compete with men while gender transitioning, and can’t compete with women until after undergoing testosterone suppression treatment for a year.
“In the summer of 2020 after I completed my one year of testosterone suppression...I submitted all of my medical work...to the NCAA, and they approved everything,” Thomas said. “I was cleared to compete on the women’s team.”
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the swimmer took a year off as the Ivy League competition was canceled.
“I didn’t want to take any risks (with) my last year of eligibility,” she said, “especially given how important it is to me to be able to compete and swim as my authentic self.”
After more than two years of hormone replacement therapy, Thomas is competing again—now as a member of the women’s swim team during the 2021-22 year. Over the course of her medical treatment, Thomas said that she experienced a lot of muscle and strength loss while increasing her levels of estrogen. She also noted that she had to readjust her goals from what they once were when she was competing on the men’s team.
“I’m often nowhere close,” she said through laughter. “It’s a weird adjustment.”
Despite the process and learning to retrain herself, Thomas said that she’s proud of her times and the ability to keep competing.
“There just seems to be so much to do and things you have to take care of, and it just seems like this mountain,” she said. “But you get by it day by day, and build confidence each day.”