Lia Thomas of Penn and Iszac Henig of Yale made waves in the pool this weekend, as the two trans swimmers competed head-to-head — so far a rarity in the NCAA — with each earning points for their team.
After weeks of stories about the continuing debate over inclusion centering her, Thomas hunkered down for her last appearance on the starting blocks at home at Penn’s Sheerr Pool.
The results and controversy were somewhat muted in Saturday’s twin dual meets with Yale and Dartmouth. Thomas put together wins in the 200-yard freestyle (1:48.73) and the 500-yard freestyle (4:57.20), but the winning times and margins were not the jaw-dropping performances that have sparked a firestorm that extended into social media and the mass media in the last month.
Henig — a trans man competing on the women’s swimming team at Yale — was dynamic in the freestyle sprint events. His time in the 50-yard freestyle — 22.76 seconds — broke a record for Sheerr Pool that has stood since 1990, according to Yale.
Henig also won the 100-yard freestyle, in a race that saw the two transgender student-athletes competing against each other, with Thomas finishing sixth, almost two seconds behind him.
Yes, him. Henig, now a senior, publicly came out as a transgender man last summer. With Ivy League swimming canceled due to the COVID pandemic in 2020-2021, he underwent gender-affirming top surgery.
Henig has been a cornerstone of Yale’s squad since freshman year. He was a part of two Ivy League-champion relay teams in that rookie season. He’s been a conference finalist 5 times overall.
Under NCAA regulations, starting affirming hormone replacement therapy means Henig would be ineligible to be a part of the championship chase on the Yale women’s team. He decided to put HRT on hold for a last quest with a team that means a lot to him.
“I value my contributions to the team and recognize that my boyhood doesn’t hinge on whether there’s more or less testosterone running through my veins,” He stated in a Pride Month special in the New York Times last June. “At least, that’s what I’ll try to remember when I put on the women’s swimsuit for competition and am reminded of a self I no longer feel attached to.”
The relay teams he’s part of also won Saturday. Henig was the anchor leg on Yale’s 200-yard individual medley squad and was the opening leg in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Penn’s quartet finished 7 seconds behind in third in that race, where Thomas swam the anchor leg.
The weekend meet was Thomas’ first competition since December 5. The debate, discussion, scorn and vitriol surrounding her has been around nearly as long as Amy Schneider’s Jeopardy winning streak.
The discussion is sure to continue through the final duels of the season with Cornell, Harvard and West Chester, next month’s Ivy League Championships, and the NCAA Division I Championships in March.
Late last week Thomas received statements of support from the Ivy League, the University of Pennsylvania, and a letter from Penn Law School students backed by a group of affiliate organizations.
And before the meet, as the Penn senior swimmers and divers lined up for a senior day picture, Henig could be seen in the shot as well — a nod of camaraderie for the trans student-athletes prior to meeting in competition.