Lia Thomas, the former Penn swimmer who in March became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship, recently sat down for an exclusive interview with ABC and ESPN, which was published on Tuesday morning.

Thomas, who swam on the Penn men’s swimming team from 2017-20, competed on the women’s team this past season after transitioning, winning the national title in the 500-yard freestyle. She finished fifth in the 200 freestyle and eighth in the 100 freestyle at the NCAA meet.

» READ MORE: Penn swimmer Lia Thomas didn’t dominate the NCAA championships. That hasn’t stopped the debate over trans athletes.

“The biggest misconception, I think, is the reason I transitioned,” Thomas said. “People will say, ‘Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage, so she could win.’ I transitioned to be happy, to be true to myself.”

Thomas’ eligibility as a transgender athlete sparked national debate and led to criticism from teammates, opponents, politicians, and others within and outside the swimming community.

An anonymous teammate told News Nation in March that Thomas’ participating in women’s swimming was “unfair.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also has been outspoken about Thomas on social media, saying her participation was an attack on women’s sports

“By allowing men to compete in women’s sports, the NCAA is destroying opportunities for women, making a mockery of its championships, and perpetuating a fraud,” DeSantis wrote on Twitter. “In Florida, we reject these lies and recognize Sarasota’s Emma Weyant [the second-place finisher] as the best women’s swimmer in the 500y freestyle.”

Thomas addressed that sentiment and comments from critics like DeSantis in the ABC/ESPN interview.

“Trans women competing in women’s sports does not threaten women’s sports as a whole,” Thomas said. “Trans women are a very small minority of all athletes. The NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women’s sports have been around for 10-plus years. And we haven’t seen any massive wave of trans women dominating.”

Thomas, who began undergoing hormone therapy in 2019, had undergone 30 months of therapy, far exceeding the NCAA’s required amount of 12 months, before the start of the 2021-22 season.

In January, the NCAA announced it would begin following the policies of the national governing bodies for each sport to determine eligibility. On Feb. 1, 2022, USA swimming updated its policy to require 36 months of testosterone suppression and an evaluation of each transgender athlete by a three-person panel. The NCAA did not adopt this change in 2021-22.

Thomas reiterated that she believes all women should be allowed to compete in the traditional format without restraints.

“It’s no different than a cis [gender] woman taking a spot on a travel team or a scholarship. It’s a part of athletics, where people are competing against each other. It’s not taking away opportunities from cis women, really. Trans women are women, so it’s still a woman who is getting that scholarship or that opportunity.”

» READ MORE: When we talk about Penn swimmer Lia Thomas, we’re listening to the wrong voices

Thomas, who graduated in the fall and swam her final college meet at nationals in March, is planning on pursuing a career as a lawyer.

“Having seen such hateful attacks on trans rights through legislation, fighting for trans rights and trans equality is something that I’ve become much more passionate about and want to pursue,” she said.

In addition to her plans to attend law school, Thomas specified she also intends to keep swimming competitively and hopes to make the U.S. Olympic Team for 2024.