Lia Thomas, transgender swimmer from University of Pennsylvania, nominated for NCAA 2022 Woman of the Year Award

PHILADELPHIA — The University of Pennsylvania has nominated swimmer Lia Thomas — who has become the face of the debate about transgender women in sports — for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year award.

The Ivy League swimmer has been nominated as a Division I athlete for swimming and diving, according to the NCAA website. The award is designed to recognize “academic achievement, athletic excellence, community service and leadership qualities of female collegiate athletes graduating from all three divisions,” according to the website.

In March, Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title after placing first in the women’s 500-yard freestyle event and setting the fastest time of the NCAA season. With this win, she became the first transgender athlete to win a DI title in any sport.

Thomas, who had previously swum for Penn’s men’s team, brought renewed attention to the debate about trans women’s participation in sport and the balance between inclusion and fair play at a time when states across the US are passing legislation aimed at protecting the rights of transgender people.

SEE ALSO: Penn Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas Talks Backlash and Future Plans for Competitions

She first burst into the limelight with a stunning performance at the Zippy Invitational in Ohio in December, where she set NCAA season bests in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle races. And she won the 100-yard, 200-yard, and 500-yard freestyle races at the Ivy League Women’s Championships in February.

In a May interview with ABC, the swimmer opened up about feeling depressed early in college before her transition. She began hormone replacement therapy in 2019 and, per NCAA protocols, took a year off from swimming before joining the UPenn women’s team in 2020.

“I knew there would be a test against me if I competed as a woman. I was prepared for that,” she said in an interview. “But I also don’t need anyone’s permission to be myself and do the sport I love.”

Thomas said “there’s a lot of factors that go into a race,” but the biggest difference now is that she’s happy, adding that trans women “pose no threat to women’s sport.”

The Woman of the Year selection panel will select 30 honorees, from whom it will then announce nine finalists — three from each NCAA division, according to the organization’s website. The NCAA Women’s Athletics Committee will then review those finalists before deciding on a 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year, according to the website.

The woman of the year is chosen at the NCAA convention.

ALSO SEE: ‘I’m a Woman’: Transgender UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas shares her story in an interview with Sports Illustrated

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