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Penn swimmer Lia Thomas opened up about her performance in the pool and coming out as transgender less than two weeks before the NCAA Championships.
In a lengthy profile by Sports Illustrated published Thursday, Thomas opened up about the mental anguish she went through before coming out as trans. She told the magazine she started to question her gender identity at the end of her high school run in Texas and recalled feeling “disconnected with my body.” She said she started to research more about what she had been feeling but worried about what others would think.
Thomas told Sports Illustrated she remembered feeling “depressed” about what she was going through during her second year at Penn and it affected her life at school. She said it wasn’t until she started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in May 2019 that she started to feel more like herself.
“It surprised me. I felt, mentally, a lot better and healthier pretty quickly. The relief it gave me was quite substantial,” Thomas said, adding that she came out to her teammates and coaches junior year.
By New Year’s Day 2020, Thomas was going by the name “Lia.” As COVID-19 shut down the season for Ivy League teams in 2020, she started to race in the women’s field by the 2021-22 season.
Thomas’ record-breaking swims at several events this season drew furor and support from teammates, parents and others across the sports world. Thomas told Sports Illustrated she took issue with those who support her decision to live her life as a transgender woman but dismiss her from competing.
“The very simple answer is that I’m not a man. I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets,” she said.
Thomas has had a remarkable run this season. She set records at the Zippy Invitational last year and meet and pool records at the Ivy League Championships last month. She even got support from the former record-holder at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool, Miki Dahlke.
Dahlke, who swam for Harvard, expressed her support for Thomas and the record-breaking performance to ESPN after the championships.
“Records are made to be broken. I am a faster swimmer because of fast swimmers of the past, and the future of swimming will be faster because of the women at the top of the NCAA today,” Dahlke said.
Dahlke was among the 300 people who signed Athlete Ally’s letter supporting the Penn swimmer.
“I signed the letter because I believe Lia should have the same opportunity to compete in a sport she loves just like any other woman in the NCAA. I think it’s important to create a safe space for all athletes in sport,” she said.
On Wednesday, Thomas was officially announced as one of the swimmers who will represent Penn at the NCAA Championships on March 16-19 in Atlanta at Georgia Tech. Thomas will swim the 100 free, 200 free and 500 free.
Thomas set Penn records in each of the events, finishing with a 47.63 in the 100 free, 1: 41.93 in the 200 free and 4: 34.06 in the 500 free.
She will have some tough competition from other schools during the championships. Virginia and Tennessee are among the top teams in the nation and have really good swimmers in the events Thomas is set to race in. Stanford is also coming off its 24th Pac-12 women’s swimming and diving championships.
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