Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has been making headlines recently – although not always positive ones. The 22-year-old athlete has shattered women’s swimming records at student competitions, but her gender has become a hot topic in the media and in public debate, as some feel that it’s unfair to allow trans and cis women to compete together. Conservative American magazine National Review even write a story on her with the headline, “Has Lia Thomas no shame?” The furore echoes that which surrounded South African runner Caster Semenya , who is widely known to be intersex and whose athletic performance has come under scrutiny as a result. Veteran swim champion Michael Phelps spoke out on the issue, widely quoted as saying, “sports should all be played on an even playing field.” Caitlyn Jenner, a fellow trans woman and an Olympian , also weighed in with, “I don’t think biological boys should compete in women’s sports – we have to protect women’s sports.” However, trans swimmer Schuyler Bailar had a different perspective, telling the LGBT Official site last December: “Lia is not a great athlete because she was AMAB [assigned male at birth]. The belief that all AMAB folks are better at sports is rooted in the sexist belief that boys are, by default, better at sports than girls.” He further commented on Phelps’ advantages as well, saying, “If Lia’s assigned gender provides her with an advantage, why is that different from Michael Phelps’ clear biological advantages of lower lactic acid levels, larger lung capacity, and so on? It’s not.” He further added, “You might consider that all these athletes did have unique physical characteristics that allowed them advantages in sport that no one considered [them] unfair.” A 2017 literature review of studies published in the journal Sports Medicine also found “no direct or consistent research of trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers”, reports CNN. So, aside from the controversy, what else do we know about the young swimmer? Did Reese Witherspoon’s daughter Ava Phillippe come out as LGBT? Lia Thomas was a star swimmer even before her transition Thomas grew up in Austin, Texas, began swimming at the age of five, and was a star athlete long before her transition. (She was sixth in her state high school swimming championships.) She enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in 2017 and quickly made a mark in the men’s team as a freestyle distance swimmer. In the summer of 2018, she realised that she was trans, and came out a year later as she slowly transitioned, despite being wary that coming out might affect her ability to swim. She told SwimSwam podcast, “I was struggling, my mental health was not very good. It was a lot of unease, about basically just feeling trapped in my body. It didn’t align.” She returned to swimming after a two-year break due to the pandemic and undergoing hormone therapy, and began to compete in the women’s team last year. She will compete in the upcoming NCAA Women’s Division I Swimming and Diving Championships this March. She previously won four races at Ivy League championships at Harvard University with record-setting scores in the 500, 200 and 100 yard freestyle races. Her family stood with her when she came out Through all the public backlash and media furore, Thomas’ family has always been her anchor. She enrolled in Penn in the footsteps of her brother Wes, who is also a swimmer – he swam for the Quakers for four years. He and their parents immediately accepted Lia when she came out. During an interview with Sports Illustrated , her father Bob said, “We will do everything and anything we need to do to have Lia be part of this family. We were not going to lose her.” ‘I was a binge-eater’ – inside LGBT icon Jazz Jennings’ weight journey He also gave some sound advice on how to block out negativity: “You can engage in [negativity] and let it dominate your thinking, or you can be a positive force. You can’t take on that water, or else you’ll sink.” She aims to be a role model for trans kids The fourth year economics major student wants to become a role model for trans kids in sports. “I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone,” she told Sports Illustrated . “They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love.” Although she has been endlessly scrutinised, Thomas has also found encouragement on social media. Trans advocate Alejandra Caraballo, commenting on her recent interview, wrote on Twitter recently: “The coverage of Lia Thomas has been one sided and so dehumanising. It’s so amazing to finally hear her in her own words that shows her struggles through all of this. It’s a wonderful story of how Lia became her true self and competed in the sport she loves.” Thomas has only given two interviews to date. Her transition was a bumpy road She began to use her name Lia Catherine Thomas on New Year’s in 2020 after years of personal tribulations. She began to question her identity during her time at Austin’s Westlake High School and said that she felt “disconnected with [her] body”, according to Sports Illustrated . After researching online and then getting matched to a trans mentor at her university, Thomas slowly realised her issues with body dysphoria and the reasons for her depression. “My sleep schedule was super messed up. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew at that moment I needed to do something to address this,” she said. Meet Prateik Babbar, the Bollywood hottie leading Netflix’s Cobalt Blue She then underwent hormone replacement therapy for one year (as required in the NCAA policy) before competing on women’s teams in 2019. She also took testosterone suppressants and oestrogen supplements to reduce her testosterone levels to average cis female levels, reports LGBT Official. Thomas also shrunk about an inch, her fat redistributed within her body, and she no longer had her previous strengths as a result of hormone therapy. However, she recognised the risks. “I did HRT knowing and accepting I might not swim again,” she said. “I was just trying to live my life.” Studying law is a part of her new journey While Thomas aims to continue training and to eventually take part in the 2024 Olympic trials, she also has another goal. According to Sports Illustrated , she has applied to law school as part of her new journey. Being in the eye of a media storm made her realise that there are many ways she could help others, so she plans to study civil rights law and help advocate for other marginalised citizens. Want more stories like this? Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .