Kylee Alons is a 31-time All American, 2-time NCAA national champion and 5-time ACC champion. She is considered the most decorated swimmer in NC State history.
In 2022 at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championship, Kylee was forced to share a locker room with University of Pennsylvania swimmer and biological male Lia Thomas. After feeling tense and exposed in the locker room, she discovered a utility closet behind the bleachers where she would change in for the remainder of the competition in order to avoid having to undress in front of a male.
She sits down with Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Nance to share her story for the first time.
Listen to the new episode below. Check out more Concerned Women Today podcasts here.
Host Penny Nance: Imagine being a young college athlete having no choice but to share the locker room with a biological intact male. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel, embarrassed, violated, by being exposed to male genitalia or not being able to hide your own, your feelings and your concerns are not only invalid but considered bigoted. This is the reality for the swimmer that we will be speaking to today. Last year the University of Pennsylvania swimmer and biological male Lia Thomas dominated the NCAA field shattering records, stealing titles, and also sharing various locker rooms with many young women without their consent.
One brave athlete joins us today to publicly share her story for the first time.[Bumper]
Nance: Former NC State swimmer, Kylee Alons, is a 31-time All-American, two-time NCAA National Champion, and a five-time ACC Champion. She is considered the most decorated swimmer in NC State history. During the 2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming and diving Championship at Georgia Tech, Kylee felt absolutely violated being forced to share a locker room with Thomas against her will. However, after discovering a utility closet behind the bleachers, she continued the competition, changing there in effort to have the privacy she deserved. So I want to welcome to the podcast for the first time, Kylee Alons and Young Women for America ambassador. Welcome to the Concerned Women Today Podcast.
Guest Kylee Alons: Thank you Penny so much for having me. I am so excited to be here, yeah, share my story publicly for the first time.
Nance: Well and I appreciate you doing it here with me because we had this conversation, I met you, was so blown away by your story, and I kind of outlined it there, but I really want to hear it from your lens. I’d love for you to share with, first, tell people, how did you get to be a champion and what does that entail. It’s not like you just show up one day and you decide to swim. What did you have to put into it in order to achieve what you had achieved?
Alons: Absolutely, yeah. So I just finished up my swimming career at NC State a couple months ago and yeah, I have been swimming since I was seven years old. And, since I was probably 14 or 15 years old, it’s been a huge part of my life, like every thing was planned around that, you know, vacations, only taking two weeks off every year, and training, and when I was a junior in high school, that when I remember really feeling like I had a shot of being able to swim at a Division 1 college. And that became my dream at that point so I worked really hard my junior and senior year in high school to be able to be recruited at NC State and I ended up committing at NC State where I just finished my five years there. And, just to give a little background on being an athlete and a swimmer, yeah, you are putting in so many hours, at least 20 hours a week, you’re putting in exercising, and that is very fatiguing so you have to sleep a lot more than a regular person would in college. On top of the fact that you’re there for school. So, you’re a student athlete and there to get a degree as well and for me personally I was an engineering degree so I had a lot on my plate.
Nance: Wow… trounces the journalism student
Alons: I had to do all the practices, do all the travel. I had to do all this homework, it was a lot of homework and along with balancing all the swimming and I wouldn’t have traded my experience for the world, I loved it. The team atmosphere was great, but as you said, I had a unique experience happen to me t the 2022 NCAAs that I would have never thought would happen to me because I was at my peak, I was at my elite level of swimming. I was racing with the best swimmers in the U.S., the best swimmers in the world at the NCAAs, and yeah…
Nance: Okay, so let me stop there. Just to sum up, you’ve been swimming since you were seven, and by the time you’re a junior, you’ve already for many years been swimming year-round. You made sacrifices, on even things like family vacations. This sport dominated everything about your life, your personal time, your family time, how you eat, how you sleep, things, events that you gave up that other kids got to do, I mean just messing around on the weekend. Like, you had things you had to do. Okay, so take me to the point where you start to hear about this guy Lia Thomas. What was that like, when did that happen, and what did you think?
Alons: Yeah, so, I first heard about Lia Thomas at the beginning of the year, …
Nance: In 2022?
Alons: In 2021. The season. The beginning of the 2021-2022 season. So for, collegiate swimming, our season doesn’t start until about October. That’s when we have our first meet, but we were training for months before then. So all the teams had been training, and the first dual meets were in October, and that’s when we started to notice and see some of the results from the other dual meets. You’re always seeing how your competition is swimming and we saw some results from UPenn versus some other school dual meet, and we noticed that this swimmer Lia Thomas was throwing down crazy times in October in a practice suit that were NCAA final times, and so, no one had ever heard of her before, and you know, after I did research I realized, that was in fact, William Thomas, was in fact a man that competed or UPenn for three years before changing his name to Lia Thomas and competing with the women.
Nance: And a very un-notable swimming career.
Nance: Part of that. He was in the mid-400 to 500 rankings as a man, if I understand correctly.
Nance: And so, then you realized, oh wait, this is actually a man. Lia is a guy, a biological male.
Nance: And what did you think? Did you think it was going to impact you? Did you think it was going to go away? What did you think would happen?
Alons: You know, I think, when I found that out, I was like there’s no way this can continue for the whole season, you know, someone is going to step in a realize that is wrong, this is completely unfair. And I really, I really, at that point I had hope, I wasn’t really concerned about it. I had hope that it wouldn’t happen. But I also was curious as how Thomas was even allowed to swim at these dual meets against women, and was winning, and having all these times, and already gained an invite, essentially, to the NCAAs based on these times that were swam.
Nance: So then he goes to the ivy leagues, does great, putting great time on the board, and now we’re getting into the NCAAs Division I finals which is at Georgia Tech. Outside Georgia Tech, I will note, our wonderful sweet Chloe Satterfield has got a whole group of women, including former college Division 1 athlete, all kinds of people, including some of our staff here, down, outside the meet, rallying on behalf of you. Rallying on behalf of the women who were going to lose spots, lose standing, lose trophies because they were allowing a man to actually compete against women. So, times coming, you’re now qualified, you’re going to the NCAA Division 1 at Georgia Tech, what are you swimming? Which kind? You’re swimming, which kind of the heats are you doing?
Alons: Yeah so, my best three events were at that meet that I was swimming, was the 50 free, the 100 fly, and the 100 free. And, Thomas, was entered, I believe, in the 500 free, 200 free, and the 100 free, so I knew on the last day, of my, that event, we would be swimming in.
Nance: Yes, so you would essentially be swimming your time would be matched against him even though you weren’t exactly in the pool at the same time, but your times were competing against each other. Correct?
Alons: Yes, yes. I knew we would both be competing for a spot. I wanted to score points for my team and, just give a backstory about the NCAAs, is that it is extremely competitive. It is the D1 level, it’s the highest level of collegiate swimming, and in order to score points at all, it’s so hard to make even the meet and to be the top 30 that are even invited, but to even score, you have to be top 16 in each event and its incredibly hard to do, its incredibly close. You could miss out on being in a final by hundredth of a second so…
Nance: No, no, that’s alright, which means that there is at least a swimmer, one swimmer at least that didn’t make it because Lia Thomas took her place.
Nance: We know about the young women in Florida who should’ve ben able to swim but she wasn’t able to because Lia Thomas took her spot. She will never be able to get that back, she’s Hungarian, she stayed in the United States in order to be able to compete and he took that away from her and she’ll never be able to get that back because of that. So, come the day of the NCAA championship, again, our women are outside rallying, doing press release. Concerned Women for America has filed, on that day, a Civil Rights complaint with the Department of Education, against the University of Pennsylvania because of this. We actually filed it on the day so we could make sure that we were talking about the issue at the right time. So you get there and so what was the locker room situation?
Alons: Yeah so, the locker room situation was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I mean, just even coming to the meet I couldn’t believe I was about to, not only compete against a biological man, but also have to share the locker room and be forced to change an undress in front of a man. In swimming we…
Nance: Yeah, tell them about that because my understanding is you put on a bathing suit, it takes about two seconds, what’s the big deal. It’s not like that when you’re competitive in swimming. Tell us about that.
Alons: Swimming is very unique from other sports in that what you’re wearing for your races is very important to how you swim. The suits that you are wearing are, they repel the water so, they are skintight, they cover you from your knee to your neck and they take at least ten minutes to go on, sometimes, even longer than half an hour it takes for some people to put theirs on depending on what brand they use and you’re doing this several times a day, so you’re going to the locker room to change into your practice suit. You go warm up in your practice suit which is just a normal women’s suit and then you go back in and have to put on your tech suit before your race and you only use it for your race because their such expensive materials that you don’t want to use it for any longer, so you’re using this locker room multiple times a day and any time I went into the locker room I felt extremely uncomfortable knowing that Thomas, a man, was at this meet, was using the lockers as well to change. And yeah, that was violating.
Nance: So you’re there thinking I’ve got to change but meanwhile this is the most important meet of your entire career. Like you have worked so hard. Talk about that, about you know, your feelings going into this moment, it had to be a big moment. I mean, you worked your whole life for this. It almost makes me choked up to even think about it, like how important this was to you.
Alons: Yeah the NCAAs, every year was always a huge, I mean, that’s what you train for the entire year. That’s the only meet you train for. You have tapered and rested so that you peak at the NCAA meet and you know, as I said before, you know that you’re going to be racing the best swimmers in the world, and just being able to race them is a great honor and preparing for your races…
Nance: How important is your headspace?
Alons: In order to prepare for those races you do have to be firing on all cylinders including mentally and you’re already under, you know, your own, like, the way you want to perform, expectations from others, expectations from yourself and you already want to be in the zone just thinking about your race. You don’t want to be thinking about how comfortable or worried you are about having to go into the locker room and get completely naked in front of a man. So…
Nance: So this is where you are. You’re trying to balance like I’ve got to be in my head, I’ve got to be prepared, I’ve worked so hard my entire life for this moment, it’s my senior year, it’s the last chance I have, and yet, you are also very concerned, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but, about a biological man and his nakedness and your nakedness. I mean, what did that feel like?
Alons: Well, it felt violating, to be honest, in the locker room. I mostly, even if I went in tin there and looked around and Thomas wasn’t in there, I felt like I needed to change completely under my parka, under my towel just to feel like I had some sort of privacy, changing with my back to the room.
Nance: Yeah, so then what did you do?
Nance: You got tired of it at some point. What was the next move.
Alons: I got tired of it. I wanted to feel safe and I wanted my private space changed and what I did is I ended up changing in a storage closet that was right behind my team’s bleachers and it was a little room right behind my our bleachers and it was dark in there but I just ended up changing in there for the rest of the meet because it alleviated all of the stress I had going into that locker room.
Nance: And were you alone? I mean did other swimmers follow suit?
Alons: Yeah, I wasn’t the only one who used the storage closet.
Nance: Some of your other teammates were like oh a good idea. You lead them on an alternative situation. You know, what I find so reprehensible about this story and there’s so many angles to this that’s just so wrong, and by the way, I just saw some polling data that we are not alone. Women are furious about this, including women who vote independent, African American and other minorities, like everyone gets it, that this is a huge problem. Everybody, I guess, except the NCAA, who makes bank and they don’t seem to care too much. So, you go and do your swim. You do your different heats, and then what happened? Where did you end up?
Alons: Yeah, so I swam the prelims and I was so thankful that I was able to make finals. I was really concerned about being on that bubble because it was my worst event that I was swimming at the NCAA so I knew that I could be 16th and that Thomas could beat me and not even be able to swim the final, but luckily I was in the B final and Thomas was in the A final. I still knew that I was having a point, or I don’t know if its one or two points, I knew I was having a couple points stolen away from me but I was thankful to be in that final in that situation.
Nance: How many are in A and how many are in B? 16 and 16?
Alons: 16 total, so 8 and 8.
Nance: So somebody would have gone to A if he had not be in the race.
Alons: Right, yeah
Nance: It might be you, it might be someone else
Alons: He booted someone else that was in my heat. Whoever was 9th in the prelims of my heat, she was not able to swim in the A final because Thomas took her place.
Nance: Um, I think that this may be, I mean certainly the life issue is an essential issue but next to that, I think the unique dignity of women as we stand in this moment, frankly demanding our rights, as we stand here and celebrate over the 50 year anniversary of Title IX, women are having to fight again. You know, Title IX 50 years ago was about the idea that there could not be discrimination against women in education and that included sports. And that also included sexual harassment. You know I wonder, and I’ll leave this to the smarter lawyers, the smart lawyers in the room and listening, if it is time to go forward with this sexual harassment, sexual discrimination lawsuit against the University of Pennsylvania and the NCAA. There are billions of dollars coming in the door based on your performance, based on your sports. A few years ago, I think Michael Jordan and others was sort of the reason behind this. Schools were benefiting and profiting from the images of their athletes and the Supreme Court said no, if you’re going to do that, if you’re going to make money off of them, you have to pay them. It also then stands a reason for me that perhaps Title VII come into play that if a school is profiting, and certainly NCAA if profiting off of athletes, perhaps there needs to be an opportunity then for athletes to file suit because of a sexual, sexually hostile environment. In work we don’t allow this, in schools there is an opportunity for sexual harassment, for sexual discrimination, but you only have six months to actually file the suit. So we’re looking at this and on your behalf, we are going to be filing again, a sexual discrimination suit, a Civil Rights complaint, against University of Pennsylvania, with the Department of Education on your behalf, because what happened to you should never happen again, to anyone. I mean what do you have to say to the other women coming up behind you?
Alons: Yeah, I completely agree with everything you said and I’m so thankful that there are organizations like Concerned Women for America that are willing to do the dirty work that it takes to stand up against this, even if it seems like common sense. And what I would say to women in this position is that your voice, your story, your feelings do matter, even if it seems the NCAA or other organizations are trying to silence you, and I would say just try not to be afraid to stand up against that, and that sounds a little bit cliché but also I have a message for people who are in an influence of athletes, such as coaches, sport administrations, like your role, their roles are so important. Simply them giving an opportunity for their women athletes’ voices to be heard and also them, when their athletes do stand up for themselves, encouraging them and supporting them, I think that its going to take a team effort to overturn and reverse some of these policies and female athletes need the support of people closest to them.
Nance: Well, there’s records now on the books that don’t belong there, and you know, there’s history of those being taken down if there’s somehow unfairly, by cheating or whatever means, by doping, whatever it is, to be considered. Um, did you, so you’re a graduate now of NC State, congratulations. Your degree was in engineering, was that right?
Alons: Yeah, I was bachelors in industrial engineering and I kind of fast-tracked my masters the past year in engineering management.
Nance: Oh my goodness, yeah, you’re incredible. You’re so smart and so brave. Um, did you feel supported by the coaches, and maybe you don’t want to get personal about your own coach, I know that relationship is important, you love your school and all that, but were you free, I guess that’s the question, were you free to speak out on this while you were a student before you graduated?
Alons: You know, I never really, I think I more had the fear of just, I had the understanding to have an NCAAs where Thomas wasn’t there, where women wouldn’t have to undress I front of a man, that individually I felt powerless, and in my swimming circle I felt comforted by the fact that I had people in my corner, I had all my teammates in my corner, if felt that I was understood by my coaches and other people but, again, the NCAA, no one gave the power to the athletes and I think the only thing that could’ve stopped this was a boycott, and even when I like, that’s what could have stopped this, that would have made us put our opportunity to compete on the line, which was a hard place to be in because you are literally training the entire year to go to this one meet and just the thought of standing up and then the NCAA saying okay well then don’t swim
Nance: Yeah, too bad
Alons: It was just like, I couldn’t do it
Nance: Well, women tried. You know women that were on Thomas’ team complained about the locker room situation and what happened was they were sent to counseling so the could get over their bigotry. Now let me just tell you, I’m so much older than you, but a generation before me, there was a real effort to train women to trust their instincts. If they don’t feel safe, to not feel like they have to be polite because that leads to victimization often. I mean we know often, and I’m not saying Lia Thomas was in any way going to molest someone in the locker room, but the very idea that we’re saying don’t trust your feelings, that’s not valid, shut up, you’re a bigot, be quiet, puts you in danger in the future and puts you in danger in other situations, we’re hearing these stories in locker rooms and gyms.
Alons: Where do you draw the line, yeah
Nance: Exactly, but it’s unfair in the swimming. The whole idea that the generation ahead of me worked so hard to teach me to understand a feeling of vulnerability and it worked. It made a difference. It kept me from being sexually assaulted, and I’ve written about this is my book, but if I felt like I might hurt someones feelings if I acted weird, or you know, or in some way reacted to something that felt off, that would have made me more vulnerable. I was saved because I paused at the beginning, I’m a runner, I paused at the beginning of a running path that went down into a secluded wooded area. There was a man behind me and felt weird and I just paused. He was already committed and he grabbed me, he dragged me down behind the highway, but because I paused, a woman saw what happened and stopped her car, laid on her horn and he ran away scared. What if I had not paused? What if I’m like oh I don’t want this man who, you know, is different than me somehow to feel like I’m making a judgement. What would have happened? I would have been hurt, way worse than I already was.
Nance: So, I credit those women that went before me, these were the feminists by the way, who said to you, you’re powerful, trust your instinct, do what was right. And I’m just so insensed by the idea that we’re saying don’t trust that instinct, you’re a bigot, what your conscience, brain, what you’re biologically, your body is telling you, that’s real and you need to be able to react to that. So, um, I feel very strong about that and the way that the NCAA and some coaches have behaved and not protected women, and, um, now we’re telling not just athletes in a big time event, but young girls in the locker room in any kind of gym across America. You don’t have a right to complain.
That’s a problem. That’s a huge problem on so many levels. What else do you want people to know, as we wrap up here, you know, this is the first time you’ve spoken out about it, this is the first time you’ve shared an experience that actually left an imprint, and I think as time goes on, it will have any even bigger imprint on your life, what else do you want people to know about this or what else would you like to say for the record, to the NCAA, to the coaches, to moms and dads that are listening out there, wondering what to do at this moment.
Alons: Yeah, I mean, I think that just for me, looking at the reality of the situation that happened to me and not looking at it through any other lens, any other perspective, like it was a violating experience for me, I felt like my space was violated, my sense of safety was violated. Anyone would feel violated if they were forced to undress in front of the opposite sex and that is just the reality of the situation and, you know, I’m speaking out now because it’s been a year since the NCAA meet happened and they still have not apologized for the fact that, like you said, I was a hostile environment there, and they haven’t reversed their policies and I think it’s important that we’re not scared to speak the realities, speak the truth, and that’s why I’m standing up now, in hopes that I can encourage others to do the same and hopefully some changes will happen.
Nance: Well, we’re there with you, we’re linking arms with you and other athletes. This must stop. This must end. We must stand strong, and I believe there’s hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of women who agree and are starting to find their voice and I truly believe this is what makes a difference and we’re glad you’re here.
Alons: Then you so much for having me.
Nance: Thank you Kylee.