Transgender Swimmer Dominating Women’s Circuit After Competing on Men’s Team for Years

One of the most impressive swimmers for the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s swimming team is a man.

“Lia” Thomas, who spent November grabbing first-place finishes and setting records, swam for Penn as Will Thomas for three years. After taking the 2020-21 season off, the transgender athlete returned to the pool with a vengeance now that he can compete against women.

On Nov. 5, Thomas won the 200-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle in a meet against Columbia, according to

His time in the 200-meter freestyle that day (1:46.92) was ninth-best in the NCAA so far this season.

Such lofty status was not what Thomas achieved when swimming with the other guys, according to the Penn Athletics website, although he had his share of successes.

For example, in the 2019-20 season, he won the 500-meter freestyle and the year before, was named a second-team All-Ivy in the 500-meter freestyle, 1,000-meter freestyle and 1,650-meter freestyle.

On Nov. 20, Thomas even surpassed his Nov. 5 showing, according to

In a meet against Princeton and Cornell, his time in the 200-meter freestyle that day (1:43.47) was second-best in the NCAA this season.

He won the 100-meter freestyle and posted the second-fastest 500-meter freestyle time in the nation (4:35.06).

Thomas’ showing in the 200 and 500 set Penn records.

Thomas has said being transgender is hard and lonely, according to PennToday.

“One of my big concerns for trans people is feeling alone,” he said. “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.”

Swimming is “a huge part of my life and who I am. I’ve been a swimmer since I was five years old,” he said.

“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?”  he said.

In an understatement given his results in the pool, Thomas said, “Being trans has not affected my ability to do this sport, and being able to continue is very rewarding.”