Lia Thomas, 22, made history earlier this year when she became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship in any sport after she performed incredibly in the 500-yard freestyle event. Since then, the strong swimmer has been living in a bigger spotlight for both her impressive achievements and the controversy surrounding transgender women playing in sports. Although many critics, including some teammates, feel she shouldn’t be allowed to compete against other women in swimming -her sport of choice- she feels differently, and is looking to change the opinions of those by simply standing up for those like her. “I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone,” she told Sports Illustrated in March. “They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love.”
Find out more about Lia and her journey as an athlete and public figure in the transgender community below!
Lia attended the University of Pennsylvania & was on their women’s swimming team.
Lia, who is originally from Austin, TX, just finished studying economics at the prestigious school and became a force to be reckoned with when she joined the Penn women’s swimming team in her senior year after competing for three seasons on the men’s team. At the end of her year competing for the school, she went from being ranked number 65 on the men’s team to being ranked number one on the women’s team in the 500-yard freestyle, according to Swimming World.
She came out as transgender in 2019.
Lia started questioning her identity near the end of high school. She then advised close family and friends that she felt like and wanted to live her life as a woman and gained their support during her first two years at UPenn. She started using hormone replacement therapy when she started transitioning during her junior year, and although she came out to her school, she was still required to compete on the school’s men’s team for the 2019-2020 academic year. After she took a year off in order to stay eligible to compete in swimming, since the COVID pandemic caused 2020 competitions to be canceled, she was able to switch over to the women’s swimming team for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Lia has tried to stay positive despite the negative reception she’s received for competing as a woman.
Both Lia and UPenn swimming coaches and students have unfortunately received hate mail and harassment from those who don’t agree with Lia’s way of living and although it’s caused her to be cautious and block some direct messaging on social media, she hasn’t let her stray away from who she is. “I’m a woman, just like anybody else on the team,” she told Sports Illustrated. “I’ve always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It’s what I’ve done for so long; it’s what I love. I get into the water every day and do my best.”
She is headed to law school & wants to compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Lia revealed that she applied for law school and is planning on swimming in the 2024 Summer Olympics trials, according to Sports Illustrated. USA Swimming officials told the outlet that if she meets the criteria to continue swimming in the women’s category, they’ll have no issue with her representing the USA in the Paris games.
Her courage is already inspiring the transgender community.
Lia declined to attend the NCAA-required postrace news conference in Mar. 2022 after getting called out by protesters and other critics outside and inside the event, and other swimmers spoke out about how she was trying to ignore the negativity she had been receiving to instead, focus on the swimming. “It’s a symbol of Lia’s resilience,” Schuyler Bailar, who at Harvard became the first known transgender man to compete on a Division I men’s team, told ESPN at the time. “The fact that she’s able to show up here, despite protesters outside, people shouting and booing her, I think it’s a testament to her resiliency. And it’s also a symbol that we can both be who we are and do what we love.”
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