News and Commentary

U Penn Transgender Swimmer Destroying Women’s Competition: ‘I’m Happy … My Coaches Are Happy … That’s What Matters To Me’
woman swimming

Lia Thomas, the biological man swimming on the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s swim team, admitted in an interview that before the process started of “transitioning” Thomas “had a lot of uncertainty about my future in swimming and whether or not I’d be able to keep swimming at all.” Asked about the feeling after breaking the Penn women’s swimming records, Thomas did not mention the women who wound up lagging far behind, only saying, “I’m very proud of my times and my ability to keep swimming and continue competing and they’re suited-up times and I’m happy with them and my coaches are happy with them. That’s what matters to me.”

In November, Thomas smashed the record in the 200 free time and the second-fastest 500 free time, with both times breaking Penn program records. Over the weekend, Thomas won the 1650 free by a whopping 38 seconds, the 500 free by 12 seconds, and the 200 free by seven seconds. 

“I started my transition period in May of 2019. … I first realized I was trans the summer before, in 2018,” Thomas recalled. “There was a lot of uncertainty; I didn’t know what I would be able to do, if I would be able to keep swimming. And so, I decided to swim out the 2018-2019 year on the men’s team as a man, without coming out, and that caused a lot of distress to me. I was struggling; my mental health was not very good, there was a lot of unease, about basically just feeling trapped in my body. It didn’t align. And so after a year of that I decided it was just not working out and I wasn’t able to focus on swimming or school or friendships as much as I wanted to, and so I decided it was time to come out and begin my transition and start everything.”

Speaking of the 2019-2020 season Thomas said, “Being in the sort of early stages of transition, it was a very awkward experience of basically being a woman competing in a men’s meet. It was uncomfortable, and so I didn’t compete that much.”

“And then in the summer of 2020, after I’d completed my one year of testosterone suppression, under HRT, following the NCAA guidelines, I submitted all of my medical work that I had been collecting for the past year of hormone tests and medical notes from my doctor and sent all that to the NCAA and they approved everything and I was clear to compete on the women’s team,” Thomas continued.

“But then with COVID happening, the Ivy League and Penn canceled the swimming season, and so, in that late summer, there was a lot of uncertainty about what the NCAA would do regarding eligibility,” Thomas said. “And I decided I didn’t want to take any risks with my last year of eligibility, especially given how important it is to me to be able to compete and swim as my authentic self. So I took the past year, 2020-2021 school year, off; I didn’t do classes or swim. I just took the year off to save the eligibility and then that brings us to this year, where I’m back enrolled in school and swimming on the women’s team and competing after a little over two and a half years of hormone replacement therapy. Feeling good and ready to swim.”

“In terms of goals, it sort of just —pre-coming out and pre-transition I had a lot of uncertainty about my future in swimming and whether or not I’d be able to keep swimming at all,” Thomas admitted. “And so I’m just thrilled to be able to continue to swim; I love to compete and I just love to see how fast I can go.”