Olympic swimmer Brooke Forde has nothing but respect for rival NCAA swimmer Lia Thomas.
Thomas, 22 — a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania — has been under a microscope since she began dominating records on the women’s team last year, following her transition from male to female.
“Social change is always a slow and difficult process, and we rarely get it correct right away. Being among the first to lead such a social change requires an enormous amount of courage and I admire Lia for her leadership that will undoubtedly benefit many trans athletes in the future. In 2020 I, along with most swimmers, experienced what it was like to have my chance to achieve my swimming goals taken away after years of hard work [due to COVID-19],” wrote Forde, a Stanford grad student.
“I would not wish this experience on anyone, especially Lia who has followed the rules required of her. I believe that treating people with respect and dignity is more important than any trophy or record will ever be, which is why I will not have a problem racing against Lia at NCAAs this year.”
The new NCAA regulations require transgender students-athletes to document testosterone levels, which must meet sport-specific levels, four weeks before their sport’s championship selections.
Now, trans participation for each sport will be determined by the sport’s national governing body, pending review by an NCAA committee to the board of governors.
Thomas began competing for UPenn’s women’s team this season after transitioning. She previously competed as a man for three seasons at the university.
In a December interview, Thomas said she began hormone replacement treatments in May 2019, and competed in the 2019-2020 season on the men’s swim team at UPenn during her transition.
Thomas has been at the center of criticism amid her success in the pool, and the NCAA’s new policy. The situation has prompted responses from decorated Olympians, Michael Phelps and Caitlyn Jenner.
USA Swimming said it is working with FINA, swimming’s global governing body, to finalize a policy on transgender student-athletes, which is expected to be announced sometime in February.
Thomas has qualified to compete at the 2022 NCAA swimming and diving championships in March, where she is set to race in the women’s 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle.
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