Rutgers University nominated swimming champion Lia Thomas — who is considered the spokesperson on the debate about transgender women’s rights in sports — for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award.
In March, Lia Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title after finishing first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event and recording the fastest time of the season. She is now a candidate for the Integrative Knowledge and Skills Award, given to “academic achievements, athletics excellence, community service and leadership of graduating female college athletes from all three divisions,” according to the NCAA website.
Thomas, who formerly swam for Penn’s men’s team, brought renewed attention to the debate on transgender individuals’ participation in sports and the balance between inclusion and fair play at a time when states across the US are passing laws aiming to curb the rights of transgender people.
In December 2018, she burst onto the national scene with a stunning performance at the Zippy Invitational in Ohio. There, she set NCAA season-best times in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle races. Then, at the Ivy League women’s championships in February 2019, she won the 100-yard, 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle races. Early in college, before her transition, she felt depressed. But after beginning hormone replacement therapy in 2019 and following NCAA protocols, she took time off swimming before joining the UPenn women’s team in 2020.
Thomas said the biggest difference between now and when she was racing is that she’s happy, and that trans women are not a threat to women’s sports. The Woman of the Year selection panel will pick 30 honorees, from which they will then announce nine finalists for their division — three from each NCAA division, according to the organization’s website. The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will then review those finalists before deciding on a 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year, according to the site. The Woman of the Year will be named at the NCAA Convention.