AMAC MAGAZINE: Volume 18, Issue 1 - JAN/FEB 2024


R iley Gaines was a star in her chosen field long before she was a household name. The former University of Kentucky swim- mer was a twelve-time All-Ameri- can, five-time SEC Champion, and two-time Olympic trials qualifier. But it wasn’t until 2022 when she broke on to the national political scene and redefined the debate about biological men competing in women’s sports. Famously, Gaines tied University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place at the NCAA women’s swimming championship in 2022 in the 200-meter freestyle. Thomas, a male who identifies as a woman, had been permitted by the NCAA to compete against female swim- mers. While Thomas had previously ranked 462nd nationally in the men’s division, he instantly became one of the top-ranked swimmers in the country after switching to the women’s division. After that defining NCAA champi- onship swim, the judges handed the fifth-place trophy to Lia and prom- ised Gaines that she would “get one in the mail.” Months later, she still hadn’t received anything.

“I looked up and I also saw a No. 5 by Lia’s name, so in that moment I realized we tied,” Gaines shared with Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in a 2022 interview. “It was a flood of emotions, really. I was extremely happy for the girls above me who conquered what was seemingly impossible by beating Lia, and it was kind of an array of emotions. I was shocked, really.” From that life-changing moment, Riley Gaines embarked on an improbable path that has led her to become the nation’s leading advo- cate for defending the integrity of women’s sports. Because few figures have embodied the courage and spirit of the current pushback against the excesses of the radical left more fiercely than Gaines, she has been voted by AMAC members as AMAC’s woman of the year. Gaines recounted her alarm when the NCAA also began to designate locker rooms as “unisex”  allowing female-identifying males to legally enter private spaces previously reserved for women. “It felt like

belittlement, and it felt like betrayal,” Gaines recalled of the change in an interview to Liberty University’s student newspaper. After those experiences, Gaines real- ized she’d had enough. “Up until this point, I was waiting for a coach, or another swimmer, or a parent, or someone with political power, or someone within the NCAA, or someone who was supposed to be protecting us . . . to protect us. But then it really hit me. If we as female athletes weren’t willing to stick up for ourselves, how could we expect someone else to stick up for us?” In the months since Gaines ended her swimming career and graduated from the University of Kentucky, she has ascended as a champion of women’s sports and the values of fairness and competitiveness while also establish- ing her national profile as an icon for the rights, safety, privacy, and dignity of female athletes. Naturally, Gaines’s public opposition to the left’s cult of gender ideology has made her the target of relent- less smears, attacks, and even phys-

Volume 18 Issue 1 • 27

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