- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas is opening up her resolve to keep swimming, even after she faced resistance from other athletes.
In an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated for their April issue (out March 24), the 22-year-old detailed her state of mind before she came out as transgender, switched from the men's to the women's swim team and started smashing records.
Before she came out, Thomas said she began to reflect on her gender identity toward the end of high school. And though she had come out to family, her struggle with gender dysphoria became so persistent during her sophomore year at Penn that it began to impact her day-to-day life.
Instead of basking in the glory of a successful 2018–19 season, when she was named to the All-Ivy swim team, she recalled, "I was very depressed. I got to the point where I couldn't go to school. I was missing classes. My sleep schedule was super messed up. Some days I couldn't get out of bed."
She said, "I knew at that moment I needed to do something to address this."
Over time, she told SI, "I tried my best to inch closer to coming out to close friends, a couple of coaches. But in that depressive, very struggling state of mind, it's hard to make progress when so much of my energy was trying to get through each day."
She began hormone replacement therapy in May 2019, adjusting to her changing body as she began the formal process of switching to the women's team and started to accept that her achievements on the men's team were from "a different moment in my life."
After taking a gap year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on collegiate athletics, she joined the Penn women's team practices in late summer 2021.
The change had made her feel "reinvigorated." Others were not as thrilled.
Though Thomas had followed protocol, the transfer created a divide in the team — not to mention in the media and across college athletics.
Just this month, 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania's women's swimming team wrote an anonymous open letter expressing their belief Thomas should not be allowed to compete.
The letter asked school and Ivy League officials not to take legal action against the NCAA's recently updated transgender policy, according to The Washington Post.
The new ruling would reportedly potentially prevent Thomas from competing in the NCAA championships next month.
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.
This year, Pennsylvania introduced HB 972, also known as the "Save Women's Sports Act," which calls for students to play on a team consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth. Thomas previously spoke about the impact of such legislation during an interview with Penn Today.
"One of my big concerns for trans people is feeling alone," said Thomas, who is the co-chair of Penn Non-Cis, an organization that provides community for trans and nonbinary people. "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."
"I'm a woman, just like anybody else on the team," added Thomas in her interview with SI. "I've always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It's what I've done for so long; it's what I love. I get into the water every day and do my best."
When she looks ahead, Thomas admitted, "I don't know exactly what the future ... will look like after this year" — maybe it could even include swimming for Team USA at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
She hopes that, by competing, she can open a door for other trans athletes. "I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they're not alone," she affirmed. "They don't have to choose between who they are and the sport they love."
And whatever her competitive career holds, Thomas is certain of one thing: "I want to swim and compete as who I am."