Swimmer Lia Thomas, who became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship earlier this year, has been nominated for the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year Award.
The 22-year-old athlete was one of 577 graduating student-athletes from Divisions I, II and II to be nominated for the prestigious award, the National Collegiate Athletic Association said Thursday in a news release.
Thomas was nominated for the honor by the University of Pennsylvania, from which she graduated in May.
The Woman of the Year award recognizes female student-athletes “who have exhausted their eligibility and distinguished themselves in their community, in athletics and in academics throughout their college careers.”
Each year, NCAA member schools can submit the names of up to two female student-athletes. The Woman of the Year Selection Committee will then select 10 athletes from each division to determine the top 30 honorees.
Of those 30 names, the committee will announce nine finalists, three from each NCAA division. The NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics will then review the finalists and name the 2022 NCAA Woman of the Year.
Thomas first made national headlines in December after posting the nation’s fastest times in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle at the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
Four months later, after winning the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA swimming and diving championships in Atlanta, Thomas’ success quickly turned her into the poster child of the anti-trans movement in sports.
Despite complying with hormone therapy requirement guidelines, Thomas was viciously and relentlessly attacked on social media for participating — and doing well ― in competitions.
Over the past year, she has been targeted by vicious attacks by a number of prominent conservative voices, including Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who tweeted that the NCAA was “destroying opportunities for women, making a mockery of its championships, and perpetuating a fraud” by allowing her to compete.
In May, responding to the criticism, she noted that “the NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women’s sports have been around for 10-plus years. And we haven’t seen any massive wave of trans women dominating.”
Amid the intense backlash and scrutiny, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) recently announced a change in policy, effectively banning the participation of trans athletes in sports.
On June 19 FINA members announced a new “gender inclusion policy,” permitting only swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women’s events.