On the surface and in the water, it was a six-team early-season swimming invitational that drew attention to her. The weekend Cougar Splash in Dallas, Pa., was a shootout among regional NCAA Division III teams, and among those taking the pool was a senior from Ramapo (N.J.) College named Meghan Cortez-Fields.
Entering Saturday’s 100-yard butterfly event, she uncorked her best effort. It what was a busy weekend. She tore through the water to win the event in 57.22 seconds.
Her swim broke a school record, and it was the first points earned by a publicly out transgender woman at any level of NCAA swimming since Lia Thomas swam at the 2022 NCAA Division I championships.
In addition to Cortez-Fields’ win in the 100 fly, she won the 200-yard individual medley with a strong performance despite being in a slower heat the previous night, and finished second in the 200 fly. She also was a part of five relay teams that put up points en route to a fifth-place finish in the team standings for the Roadrunners.
Her performances in the pool, and who she is, drew criticism from the expected places. A congratulatory tweet on Ramapo’s Instagram account was later removed because of a barrage of transphobic posts against the swimmer, including one from former collegiate athlete and anti-trans activist Riley Gaines, who called out the school for removing the tweet asking “where have we seen this before?”
Officials for the school replied over the weekend in a statement to several media outlets explaining their decision to remove the message.
“The original post of Meghan’s achievement was deleted by a peer who wanted to protect their teammate from insulting comments on the post,” the statement noted.
School officials also noted that Cortez-Fields has met all NCAA requirements to be eligible for women’s competition. Under the current the NCAA policy, she has to be on a hormone replacement regimen for at least one year. She also would have to submit to testing prior to the opening competition of the season and have serum testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles per liter.
The policy also states that should she qualify for championship competition, she would have to submit more test data prior to her conference championship meet and the NCAA Division III national championships in March.
These protocols were added in the backwash to Thomas’ performances in 2022. In the 2024-2025 academic year, the requirements will adopt the current policies of the world governing body for the sport World Aquatics. Those regulations disqualify anyone who has experienced any stage of male puberty from competing in the female category.
This season is Cortez-Fields’ fourth swimming for Ramapo. She was part of the men’s team for the last three years and last season competed while meeting the NCAA’s initial policy requirements.
While some continue to see Lia Thomas’ competition in NCAA swimming as problematic, Cortez-Fields told the school’s student-run newspaper The Ramapo News last year that the national champion from Penn spurred her own decision to stay in college swimming.
“Thomas is an inspiration to me in that way, but also I felt so bad for her because I know exactly what she was going through,” Cortez said. “Even going into this season, I had a fear of succeeding, because I don’t want what happened to her to happen to me.”
She also noted that she seeks to be a possibility model as well.
“I think I’m in a very unique position being one of the first here at Ramapo,” she continued. “I hope that people can see what I’m going through and to show I can do this. Trans people can do this, but at the same time there are some difficulties.”
Her next outing will be a triangular with Rowan (N.J.) and Montclair State (N.J.) December 8.