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Lia Thomas nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Schools across the country nominated their athletes of the year last week. The University of Pennsylvania chose swimmer Lia Thomas for the NCAA Woman of the Year award.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Thomas made headlines back in March when she became the first known transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: But this is a very close race, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Thomas inching ever so slightly forward.

SUMMERS: She placed first in the women's 500-yard freestyle race and had that event's fastest recorded time of the NCAA season.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Lia Thomas pulling away over the final 150 meters. Thomas wins the NCAA championship.

SHAPIRO: Her success quickly became a lightning rod for the debate surrounding transgender athletes and sports. Before transitioning, she swam for the men's team at UPenn. Thomas told ABC News in May that she was depressed and having thoughts of suicide due to gender dysphoria.

SUMMERS: She finally decided to transition, even if it cost her her swimming career. Thomas began hormone replacement therapy in 2019. Complying with the NCAA protocol, she joined the women's team in 2020 after taking a year off.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIA THOMAS: I knew there would be scrutiny against me if I competed as a woman. I was prepared for that. But I also don't need anybody's permission to be myself.

SHAPIRO: During that interview, Thomas said transgender women are not a threat to women's sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS: Trans people don't transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. And transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions.

SUMMERS: In June, the International Swimming Federation voted to ban transgender women from competing internationally unless they began undergoing hormone replacement therapy before the age of 12. That would keep Lia Thomas from trying out for the Olympics.

SHAPIRO: The winner of the NCAA Woman of the Year will be presented at their convention next January. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.