Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania has been shattering pool, meet and program records at the school.

The 22-year-old took down her competition in the 500-yard women’s freestyle preliminaries and finals at the Zippy Invitational at the University of Akron. Her winning time of 4:34.06 is now the best in the country for the event. 

Before coming out as transgender and transitioning, Thomas was part of the UPenn men’s team and competed for two full seasons there. As per the NCAA mandate, at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment is required to be eligible to compete as a woman.

About the journey and competing in the women’s category, Thomas said, “(Swimming) is a huge part of my life and who I am. I’ve been a swimmer since I was 5 years old. 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. Realizing I was trans threw that into question. Was I going to keep swimming? What did that look like? Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding.”

This topic, however, is one that has been shrouded in controversy, about the eligibility and how fair it is for those born as men to compete in women’s sport.

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice argued that laws in Arkansas and West Virginia barring athletes who were born as men from competing in women’s sports were unconstitutional.

Pennsylvania also recently instated HB 972 (also known as the Protect Women’s Sports Act) which is about encouraging a level playing field for athletes, where students play on a team based on the sex they were assigned at birth. 

In an interview with Penn Today, Thomas, who is the co-chair of Penn Non-Cis, an organization that works towards building a community for trans and nonbinary people, said, “One of my big concerns for trans people is feeling alone. Even if you don’t pay attention to the news… [about] states proposing and passing vicious anti-trans legislation, it can feel very lonely and overwhelming.” 


Photo credit: @PennSwimDive