‘I’m Not Afraid!’: Riley Gaines Defends Female Sports after Trophy Awarded to Transgender Swimmer

On the frontlines of an increasingly contentious cultural debate, stands Riley Gaines, a 23-year-old swimmer from the University of Kentucky. Lately, she has made more waves outside the pool than in, becoming a beacon for the integrity of women’s sports. This unexpected role was thrust upon her after being compelled to compete against a trans woman swimmer, Lia Thomas, and coming face-to-face with questions of fairness, equality, and privacy in sports.

riley gaines swimmer interview

Gaines earned recognition as one of the fastest female college swimmers in America. However, her sporting journey took a significant turn when she had to compete against Thomas, a 6-foot 4 biological male who previously competed as Will Thomas. The NCAA National Championships saw Gaines tie with Thomas for 5th place in the 200 freestyle finals. Despite this, officials awarded the trophy to Thomas, an act that sparked Gaines’ bold advocacy.

“They reduced everything that I had worked my entire life for to a photo op,” Gaines stated, revealing a moment of intense emotional struggle that propelled her into the spotlight. The sight of her hard-earned trophy being given away for a photo opportunity invoked serious concerns within her and amongst her fellow female athletes about the current state of women’s sports.

The shock didn’t end there. Gaines and her teammates discovered that Thomas, a fully intact male, was sharing their locker room. This realization drove home the stark reality: they were alone in their fight. “If we as female athletes weren’t willing to stick up for ourselves, how could we expect someone else to stick up for us?” Gaines voiced, underscoring the urgency of the situation.

Critics, including Thomas, have accused Gaines and others of promoting transphobic beliefs. To this, Gaines responded, “If it makes someone transphobic to acknowledge that there are two sexes, to acknowledge no matter what, you cannot change your sex… then my kind of petty response is, ok, well, you’re a misogynist.”

The battle for the integrity of women’s sports hasn’t been without its challenges. In April, Gaines was physically and verbally assaulted by a mob of transgender activists while speaking at San Francisco State University. The incident saw her faith tested, yet she found the strength to forgive, attributing her resilience to her Christian faith.

“I’m so secure with myself, and that’s because of my faith,” she said, reflecting on the incident. Gaines’s faith were instrumental in guiding her towards compassion during challenging times, leading her to pray for her attackers, who she described as “so hateful and sad.”

The fallout from the incident was swift, with university officials denying the attack and painting it as peaceful. Gaines, refusing to back down, is now suing the university for failing to provide adequate protection.

“I’m not afraid,” declared Gaines, showcasing her boldness and unyielding commitment to her cause. More than fear of being attacked or ridiculed, Gaines fears not standing up for the truth and failing to safeguard the future of women’s sports.

Putting her dental school dreams on hold, Gaines has fully committed herself to this battle, standing before Congress and several states, and amplifying her voice in support of female athletes. Her courage and determination draw from her favorite Bible verse, Romans 8:18, which speaks of present sufferings being inconsequential compared to future glory.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18

In the face of her trials, Gaines remains steadfast, a symbol of hope for the future of women’s sports. As she continues to champion the cause, 21 states so far have signed bills protecting female athletes, showing that her efforts are not in vain. Her journey serves as a testament to the power of faith, courage, and determination in defending the rights of female athletes.

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