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Transgender swimmer competing in NCAA finals makes history in Atlanta

Lia Thomas is the first known transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship.

ATLANTA — University of Pennsylvania transgender athlete Lia Thomas competed at Georgia Tech Thursday, where the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women's swimming and diving championships are underway.

Thomas is the first known transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. She finished first in the preliminary round of the 500-meter freestyle. She competed in the 500-meter freestyle final and finished with a time of 4:33.24, beating her previous record in the prelims. 

Thomas advanced to Thursday's final with her top time of 4:33.82. Her previous top time was 4:34.06, according to the Associated Press. She's also competing in three more events.

She spent three seasons competing on the University of Pennsylvania's men's swim team before she began her transition in 2019 by starting hormone replacement therapy. Thomas has completed 34 months of hormone replacement therapy, surpassing the NCAA's 12-month requirement. 

Thomas' record-smashing season has led to a wave of controversy with some fellow athletes and parents concerned that Thomas has an unfair physical advantage. 

However, some of Thomas' teammates are split. Some are supporting her and some have said other women don't have a fair shot. 

"We have to put our heads underwater and swim. And Lia has done an incredible job of that. But she shouldn't have to put her blinders on," Schuyler Bailar, the first openly transgender NCAA division swimmer said. "So many of us before Lia tried to say 'Hey, we exist' to hopefully make the world more ready for the next trans athlete – and Lia is becoming part of that visibility train as well so the next person is more accepted."

Protestors gathered outside Georgia Tech's aquatic center where the competition is underway. Organizers have also said they don't feel it's right for Thomas to compete because she was assigned male at birth, though she identifies as a woman. 

"Identities don't play sports, bodies play sports and unfortunately no matter how you identify, your body will always remain the biological sex, that you were born," Beth Stelzer said, founder of Save Women's Sports. 

Within the last two years, 11 Republican-led state legislatures have passed bills preventing transgender kids in K-12 schools from competing on teams that match their gender identity. Similar legislation is being considered here in Georgia where Thomas could make history.  

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