Throughout 2022, Penn graduate and women's swimmer Lia Thomas broke records and became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I Championship title, sparking a conversation around transgender inclusion in sports.
Following Thomas’ performance at the 2021 Zippy Invitational — where she broke meet, program, and pool records — her participation began to draw criticism and transphobic rhetoric from media outlets such as Fox News and the New York Post.
Jan. 6 — Penn Athletics and the Ivy League released separate statements supporting Thomas.
Jan. 19 — The NCAA announced in a press release that eligibility guidelines for transgender athletes would now be determined on a sport-by-sport basis by the national governing body of each sport, effective immediately. In a statement to ESPN, Penn Athletics said that it was aware of the new policy and would support Thomas with her eligibility in upcoming NCAA swimming competitions.
Feb 1. — The Penn women’s swimming and diving team released a statement on Tuesday expressing support for Thomas. “We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition. We value her as a person, teammate, and friend,” the team said.
Feb. 16-19 — Thomas helped lead Penn women’s swimming to the Ivy League Championships with a historic third-place finish, winning three individual events — the 100-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle, and 500-yard freestyle — and setting two Ivy League records and three pool records. Penn scored 1,256 points — the most in program history by nearly 200 points.
March 17 — Thomas became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA Division I Championship title amid ample support, protests, and a media frenzy. She touched the wall in 4:33.24, marking her best time of the season and setting Penn’s program record, which she broke earlier that season.
“I try to ignore everything as much as I can. I try to just focus on my swimming and do what I need to do to get ready for my races and just try to block out everything else,” Thomas told ESPN directly after the race.
March 18 — Thomas tied for fifth place in the NCAA Championships 200-yard freestyle event as the hectic weekend of media and protests continued. The crowd included Schuyler Bailar, the first openly transgender swimmer to compete in NCAA Division I swimming.
March 19 — Thomas placed eighth at the NCAA Championships in her last swim of the season, touching the wall in 48.18 in the 100-yard freestyle and achieving her third straight podium placement in three days alongside fellow trans athlete and then-Yale University junior Iszac Henig, who finished fifth.
July 14 — Penn nominated Thomas for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award. The award, established in 1991, “honors the academic achievements, athletics excellence, community service and leadership of graduating female college athletes.”
Check out the rest of the DP’s Year in Review content here.