PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Lia Thomas, a University of Pennsylvania women's team swimmer, who is shattering records and reinvigorating the conversation surrounding transgender athletes, is finally sharing her story.
"I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they're not alone," she told Sports Illustrated in an interview posted online Thursday. "They don't have to choose between who they are and the sport they love."
The swimmer for the Quakers has followed NCAA and Ivy League rules since she started her transition in May 2019 with hormone replacement therapy. Her triumphs have been overshadowed by criticism that it's not fair for a swimmer who competed as a man three years ago to now line up against women.
"I'm a woman, just like anybody else on the team," Thomas said. "I've always viewed myself as just a swimmer. It's what I've done for so long; it's what I love."
Thomas said it is not about records or winning.
"I get into the water every day and do my best," she said.
At times, though, Penn has appeared to be a team fractured. Members of the swimming and diving team released a statement of support in Thomas but two days later, a letter purportedly signed by 16 anonymous Penn athletes was sent to the NCAA saying Thomas should not be allowed to participate in the national championships.
The Ivy League and Penn both issued statements this season in support of Thomas and reaffirmed commitments of inclusiveness for all transgender athletes.
Before sharing her story with Sports Illustrated, Thomas sat down for a podcast interview with Swim Swam in December.
During the interview, Thomas confirmed she had been doing testosterone-blocking hormone treatment for two years, causing her to lose muscle.
"She's absolutely following the rules set forth by the NCAA," said Dr. Raymond Cattaneo, Einstein Medical Center's lead pediatric faculty member of the Pride Program.
But critics say transgender women athletes still have an unfair advantage.
"They have larger lungs and larger hearts and larger muscle," said Pennsylvania State Representative Barbara Gleim (R - Cumberland County).
Thomas said she does her best not to focus on the negativity and the hate.
"The very simple answer is that I'm not a man," she said. "I'm a woman, so I belong on the women's team. Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets."
After college, Thomas says swimming at the 2024 Olympic trials is a goal.
"I don't know exactly what the future of my swimming will look like after this year, but I would love to continue doing it," Thomas said. "I want to swim and compete as who I am."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The video in the player above is from a previous report.