Metro Weekly

Trans college swimmer sets conference records, making national history

Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania’s performance may foreshadow her becoming the first trans Division I All-American

lia thomas, trans, swimmer
Lia Thomas — Photo: University of Pennsylvania Athletics

A trans athlete is setting records in the pool in her first season with the University of Pennsylvania’s women swimming team.

Earlier this month, Lia Thomas won three events at the Zippy Invitational at the University of Akron, setting pool, program and meet records. She also beat three school records and two Ivy League ones.

In two events, she met the NCAA’s “A” qualifying standard, meaning she can compete in the national championship next March in Atlanta.

In the weeks leading up to the conference, Thomas, 22, topped the NCAA season chart in the 200-yard freestyle at a home meet against Princeton and Cornell Universities. 

According to Outsports, she is the first trans woman to compete in NCAA’s women’s swimming since 2019.

The outlet also reports that only one trans student-athlete has ever won a Division I individual conference title, and that only one trans-student athlete has ever won an individual national championship and achieved All-American designation.

Thomas could very well match these achievements and become the first trans student-athlete to be a Division I All-American, or even national champion.

Thomas also co-chairs Penn Non-Cis, a club aiming to foster community among trans and gender non-conforming people.

Like many other trans women in sports, Thomas’s excellent performance was met with vitriol from some conservatives, though the NCAA allows trans students to compete in women’s sports as long as they’ve completed a year of testosterone suppression.

Nevertheless, the New York Post deadnamed her and the Daily Mail needlessly spotlighted pre-transition photos. 

“Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport,” Thomas told Penn Today in June. “Being able to continue is very rewarding.”

Thomas, who has been a swimmer since she was 5, said that she has always found solace in the water, describing swimming as “a huge part of my life and who I am.”

She said that being trans can “feel very lonely and overwhelming,” in part due to “vicious anti-trans legislation.”

“The process of coming out as being trans and continuing to swim was a lot of uncertainty and unknown around an area that’s usually really solid,” she said. “Realizing I was trans threw that into question. Was I going to keep swimming? What did that look like?”

Thomas is poised to just keep swimming, even though 62% of Americans believe trans athletes should only be allowed to play on teams that correspond to the sex they were assigned at birth, according to Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey. The survey was based on interviews conducted this May with about 1,000 randomly selected adults living in the U.S.

Just 63% of liberals support athletes being allowed to play on teams that correspond to their gender identity, while 34% of moderates and 12% of conservatives hold this view.

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