By Kate Robinson
I will never forget the feeling of joy that my 16-year-old self felt as I stepped on to the podium with my 200-yard medley relay team after finishing third at one of the biggest high school swim invitationals of the season.
I will also never forget the excitement that coursed through my veins one year later as I sprinted across the pool deck into my teammate’s arms upon hearing that we had just made the cut to swim in the finals at the state championship meet.
But as I watched Lia Thomas, the biological male-turned-female swimmer from the University of Pennsylvania place first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the national championships last week, I only felt disgusted.
Disgusted at the NCAA for its lax regulations, which are the reason Thomas is competing against women to begin with. Disgusted at USA Swimming for knowingly allowing this to happen, and disgusted that society has come to a point in which we are debating the merits of whether males should be competing against females.
It shouldn’t even be a question. Thomas is a biological male who went from being a decent, mid-500s ranked swimmer across all divisions in the men’s category to transitioning to a female and becoming a national champion.
Even though Thomas followed the NCAA’s shameful rules, which only require one year of testosterone suppressant to be eligible to compete, she still has the anatomic capabilities of a male that will never go away, like a larger heart for oxygen efficiency and bigger hands and feet to pull through the water more quickly – luxuries that cisgendered women are not afforded.
Thomas has advantages over the competition, and the proof lies in her swimming times. According to John Lohn, the editor-in-chief of Swimming World Magazine, there’s nearly an 11% difference between men’s and women’s record times. Since starting her transition and completing testosterone treatment, Thomas’s times have only slowed about three to six percent, nowhere close to the 11% average. It is evident that 12 months of treatment – or even the two and a half years that Thomas completed to even out hormonal levels that her body had spent over 20 years producing – will do next to nothing to put her in a place where she can fairly compete in the women’s division.
The science is undeniable, and recognizing it doesn’t make a person “transphobic,” as one British Parliament member recently claimed. Instead, it simply makes us team players who want an equal playing field for all.
Swimmers work too hard for too long. We train hours on end for years to hopefully cut just half a second off our best times. So, I now wonder: where are the self-proclaimed feminists? Are they not alarmed that women’s sports are currently being hijacked by biological men?
Of course, I support Thomas’s right to self-identify as whatever gender she chooses and for her to live her life freely. We all should. But we also can’t ignore the women who are negatively impacted by this.
I feel for Emma Weyant, the female who took second behind Thomas in the 500 freestyle last week. She’s the true definition of a national champion in my mind and the minds of many.
I feel for Reka Gyorgy, the fifth-year senior competing in the last race of her career, who finished seventeenth in the event that Thomas placed first in. Gyorgy missed her chance to swim in the finals by one spot. This is a pain that perhaps only swimmers will understand.
But, most of all, I feel for the young girls watching the meet at home, who dream of one day becoming collegiate swimmers, too. It saddens me to think what witnessing a man beating women is teaching our next generation of swimmers about integrity, sportsmanship, confidence, and self-worth. What does this mean for the future of our sport?
I only hope that swimmers and all athletes across the country rally to take a stand against the discriminatory policies that are destroying women athletes. If we continue to allow Thomas to set a precedent for males to compete against females in the name of “equality,” then there could very soon come a day in which a biological woman never feels the joy of stepping on to the podium or the excitement of qualifying for a championship final ever again.
Ms. Robinson is a sophomore at Chapman University majoring in Strategic & Corporate Communication. She is also a member of the Chapman women’s swim team.