Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who made headlines after winning an NCAA Division I national championship, responded to critics who say that she gained an unfair advantage competing against women.
Thomas spent three years swimming for the Penn men's team, then joined the women's squad for the 2021-2022 season.
"The biggest misconception, I think, is the reason I transitioned," Thomas told ABC News and ESPN. "People will say, 'Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage, so she could win.' I transitioned to be happy, to be true to myself."
Thomas won the 500 freestyle at the NCAA swimming and diving championships in March, just a month after 16 of her teammates wrote a letter to the school and the Ivy League saying that Thomas should not be competing against women.
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Thomas placed fifth in the 200 freestyle and eighth in the 100 freestyle at the championships and added she was miserable while putting up good swimming times competing against men.
"Trans women competing in women's sports does not threaten women's sports as a whole," Thomas said. "Trans women are a very small minority of all athletes. The NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women's sports have been around for 10- plus years. And we haven't seen any massive wave of trans women dominating."
"Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. Transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions.”
More than a dozen states prohibit transgender students from participating in sports that are consistent with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Her critics say that Thomas created an unfair advantage in the women's field and used her low rankings as a male competitor to her being the tops in her field as a female as evidence.
"It's no different than a cis (cisgender) woman taking a spot on a travel team or a scholarship. It's a part of athletics, where people are competing against one each other. It's not taking away opportunities from cis women really," Thomas said. "Trans women are women, so it's still a woman who is getting that scholarship or that opportunity."
Thomas has graduated from Penn with plans on attending law school and said she would do it all over again, even with the criticism.
"I've been able to do the sport that I love as my authentic self," she said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer, didn't transition to gain advantage