Transsexual swimmer Leah Thomas has said she intends to continue competing with the ultimate goal of reaching the Olympics.
In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America Tuesday, Thomas also challenged those who said she had an unfair biological advantage that ruined the integrity of women’s athletics.
“Trans women are not a threat to women’s sports,” she said.
Thomas became a leading symbol of transgender athletes – provoking both opposition and support – when she joined Penn’s women’s swimming team after competing for three years on the men’s team at Ivy League School.
In March, Thomas won the women’s 500-yard freestyle race at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, becoming the first transgender woman to claim a national swimming title.
She has since graduated from Penn and plans to attend law school, in addition to pursuing her goal of qualifying for the 2024 US Olympic Swimming Trials, which will determine the team for the Paris Games.
“I intend to keep swimming,” Thomas told ABC. “My goal has been to swim in the Olympic trials for a very long time, and I would like to finish that.”
USA Swimming uses a review panel to make individual decisions on a case-by-case basis from 2018 onwards. Thomas will need approval from the governing body to try to qualify for the next Olympic trials.
Thomas, who grew up in Austin, Texas, said she fell in love with swimming at age 4, but felt more and more detached from her body as she grew older.
“I didn’t feel like a boy,” she said.
After high school, Thomas won a place on the men’s swimming team in Penn. But by her sophomore year, she was battling deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
“I could hardly go to school. I really could hardly get out of bed, ”she recalls, finally saying to herself,“ I can’t live like this anymore. I want to live again. I want to be able to do things that I like. ”
Thomas said the fear of not being able to compete in the sport she loves stopped her from going first. But at the end of her second year, she began hormone replacement therapy.
“The mental and emotional changes actually happened very quickly. I felt much better mentally. I was less depressed, “she said. “And I lost muscle mass and became much weaker and much, much slower in the water.”
Thomas began swimming in Penn’s women’s swimming team early in his senior year, following NCAA guidelines at the time that athletes must undergo one year of hormone replacement therapy to change gender categories. At the beginning of Thomas’ last year, she underwent 30 months of hormone therapy.
Attention to Thomas grew as she became much more successful in swimming, competing against women than before.
Transgender athletes have already become a prominent political target, with many conservative states passing laws requiring high school athletes to compete as the gender assigned to them at birth.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a proclamation declaring Florida-born NCAA runner-up Emma Wayant to be the real winner of the 500 women’s title.
The NCAA amended its guidelines on the admissibility of transgender people in January to allow each sport to follow the rules set by the national governing body of each sport. This drastic change has drawn criticism from LGBTQ + advocacy groups, who have argued that the NCAA’s decision came as a direct response to one athlete: Thomas.
In an interview with ABC, Thomas dismissed some of the criticism he received, especially during his senior season, when she rarely spoke to the media. She scoffed at the idea that she had passed to be more successful as a swimmer.
“We move on to be happy and authentic and our true selves,” she said. “Switching to gain an advantage is not something that is ever a factor in our decisions.”
Thomas also said it was not fair to prevent transgender people from competing in sports or to limit themselves to competing against each other.
“Apart from not allowing the full athletic experience, it’s incredibly different for trans people who are already facing huge discrimination in other parts of our lives,” Thomas said.
She said the highlight of her college graduation was hearing her name, Leah Thomas.
“When I really had to go through the stage and hear them say my name,” she said, “it was really cool.”