The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Trans Swimmer Lia Thomas Nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year

Lia Thomas

Former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas has been nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award by her alma mater. 

In March, Thomas became the first transgender woman to win a Division 1 title when she won in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event.

As the first trans NCAA champion in Division I history, Thomas quickly became the face of the ongoing backlash against transgender athletes’ participation in sports — specifically the participation of trans women. 

Beyond elite competition, the controversy continues to intensify throughout the country — over the past year, 10 states have passed anti-trans legislation banning trans student-athletes from competing in categories that align with their gender identities.

“I knew there would be scrutiny against me if I competed as a woman,” Thomas told JuJu Chang on Good Morning America in May. “But I also don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself and to do the sport that I love.”

Thomas began her medical transition in 2019, following the NCAA requirements of completing at least one year of hormone therapy prior to competing in women’s sports categories.

In her conversation with Chang, the Ivy League swimmer set the record straight on her reason for transitioning, debunking the ludicrous claim that she did so in order to have an “advantage” while competing.

Thomas recalled that her swimming career was actually what kept her from transitioning in the first place.

“Trans people don’t transition for athletics,” she emphasized. “We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves.”

In March, Thomas shared with Sports Illustrated that she began to really struggle with her gender identity during her freshman year at UPenn. “I felt off,” she recalled, “disconnected with my body.”

Despite her team having a really successful season, Thomas’s growing gender dysphoria prevented her from enjoying it.

“I was very depressed. I got to the point where I couldn’t go to school. I was missing classes. My sleep schedule was super messed up. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed,” she told the magazine. “I knew at that moment I needed to do something to address this.”

In addition to immense criticism, Thomas has also united a passionate group of supporters throughout the country.

Brooke Forde, former Stanford swimmer and current NCAA Woman of the Year nominee, shared her admiration for Thomas’s courage to compete as her truest self.

“Being among the first to lead such a social change requires an enormous amount of courage, and I admire Lia for her leadership that will undoubtedly benefit many trans athletes in the future,” Forde shared earlier this year, The Hill reports.

According to the NCAA, 577 graduating students were nominated for the Woman of the Year award, with each school recognizing up to two female athletes.

“Established in 1991, the award recognizes female student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in their community, in athletics, and in academics throughout their college careers,” the NCAA’s Friday announcement said.

The winner will be announced at the NCAA Convention in January 2023.

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