UPenn swimmer dominating women’s events originally swam for men’s team

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A University of Pennsylvania swimmer who swam for the men’s team for three years is now dominating women’s competitions.

Lia Thomas, formally named Will Thomas, now identifies as transgender and has reportedly “blasted the number one 200 free time and the second-fastest 500 free time in the nation on Saturday, breaking Penn program records in both events,” SwimSwam reported.

Thomas “swept the 100-200-500 free individual events and contributed to the first-place 400 free relay in a tri-meet against Princeton and Cornell,” the outlet added.

“Thomas began the day with a 1:43.47 (24.6/26.2/26.4/26.1) to win the 200 free,” SwimSwam noted of Thomas’ ability to outperform female athletes. “Only half a second off the NCAA A cut, it is the second-fastest women’s 200 free time in the nation so far this season, and it would have scored in the A final at 2021 NCAA Championships.”

“Next, Thomas clocked a 49.42 to win the 100 free with the only sub-50,” SwimSwam reported. Thomas “went 4:35.06 to win the 500 free by 12.9 seconds, with Penn’s Anna Sofia Kalandadze finishing second in 4:47.93. Defending Ivy champ Ellie Marquardt of Princeton was third (4:48.64). Thomas wrapped up the day anchoring Penn’s 400 free relay with 49.01; the Quakers won by 2.4 seconds over Princeton with 3:22.70.”

Thomas, who was never good enough to be top of the sport as a male athlete, now dominates women’s college records.

SwimSwam reported that earlier in November, in the competition between the Columbia Women’s Swimming and Diving Team and the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas won a pair of gold medals in the 200 free and 100 free by massive margins.  

“Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding,” Thomas said in an interview with the school’s newspaper.

The interview was also featured in the Penn Social Policy & Practice website. In an article titled Game Pieces in the Culture Wars, the article goes on to describe how more than 250 bills are “aimed at reducing the rights of LGBTQ+ people are currently working their way through state legislatures in the United States, or have already been passed.”

This includes Lia Thomas, co-chair of Penn Non-Cis, a club that aims to build community for trans and non-cis people. “One of my big concerns for trans people is feeling alone,” she says. “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.”

For Thomas, relief has always been found in the water. Swimming is “a huge part of my life and who I am. I’ve been a swimmer since I was five years old,” she says. “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?”

Thomas took a year off during the pandemic and will swim for the Penn women’s team in her senior year. “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport and being able to continue is very rewarding,” she says. 

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