Amid Lia Thomas Controversy, An Open Letter to NCAA D-I Women Swimmers

Kelly Palace

Amid Lia Thomas Controversy, An Open Letter to NCAA D-I Women Swimmers

By Kelly Palace

Dear Division I NCAA Women Swimmers,

In this upcoming historic NCAA competition that will include the participation of University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, there will undoubtedly be controversial conversations, extra media attention and potential protests.

I respect Lia to live as her authentic self. This letter, however, is not a commentary about Lia Thomas as a swimmer or in which category she should compete.

lia-thomas-penn, transgender

Lia Thomas

As a performance and leadership coach, what I’d like to address is the mindset that you will need to use at this meet to demonstrate that you are the champions you’ve been preparing so diligently to become.

While I imagine your coaches have given you a similar message, I’d simply like to give additional support and encouragement to those of you who may be experiencing any negative impact due to such an unusual, unprecedented situation.

Please consider that whatever challenges you may face this week will make you better and stronger in the long run. Victories come in more forms than standing on the podium.

I ask you to put aside any distractions from your goals. You’ve worked hard for peak performances, and now is the time for you to stand in your own personal strength, be confident and focused.

When you set foot on the deck in Atlanta, feel the joy you experience in connecting with the water. Relish the privilege of getting to compete at such an elite level. Enjoy your teammates and friends. Rise above controversy. Be open-hearted and compassionate. Research shows that we perform better when we evoke positive emotions.

I care about NCAA women’s swimming, follow it closely, and have rarely missed attending the annual championships in the last 40 years–as a swimmer, coach, or alumni. I feel the lessons you are learning by competing in college sports create leadership skills, confidence and resilience. This unprecedented and historic time in our sport will test you.

Now is the time for you to step up, shine and be your best—both in the water and out. Don’t let anything deter you from that.

Kelly Parker Palace

Author, Take Your Mark, LEAD!
Host, Champion’s Mojo Podcast
Executive and Leadership Coach
Former Division I Head Women’s Swim Coach
Four-time World No. 1 FINA Masters Swimmer, 2021
Breast Cancer Survivor

About: Kelly Parker Palace dove into her first swimming race at age four, never mind the small detail of not knowing how to swim. After that near-drowning experience, as a young adult she went on to swim Olympic Trials cuts, earn a full college scholarship and NCAA Division I All-American honors at North Carolina State University. She also broke a glass ceiling as the first ever women’s head swim coach in the competitive Southeastern Conference while at the University of South Carolina.

Kelly has kept her head on the black line for her entire life. She continued her passion for swimming by joining U.S. Masters more than 30 years ago. As a Masters swimmer, she has competed in more than 500 races, including earning multiple USMS National and FINA world No. 1 rankings as recently as 2021. Kelly is a breast cancer survivor, 9/11 survivor and the author of the best selling book, Take Your Mark, LEAD!, published in 2021.

Her current “day job” is as the host of the award-winning Champion’s Mojo podcast, with more than 140 episodes published. Kelly is one of the few women hosts in the male dominated world of sports-related podcasts. She’s also an executive and leadership coach who works with top-level executives, medical experts, entrepreneurs, elite athletes and leaders.