Riley Gaines made her first splash


At the age of 8, Riley’s God given athletic ability and high engine were evident and in full display as she effortlessly and efficiently swam laps in the full length community pool.  

Swimming coaches immediately recognized her talent and watched her dominate competitors over the next several years.    

The dilemma was that Riley also loved the game of softball (her mother played collegiately) and played (pitcher/2nd base) the sport competitively (her team captured/won the little league softball World Series title) until the age of 12. 

High School

It wasn’t until entering high school that Riley made the commitment to be a one-sport athlete…with swimming being her priority/choice. Like many other driven female athletes, Riley’s goal was to one day become an Olympic Champion.  

It was during Riley’s sophomore year that she demonstrated her dedication to her God and Savior Jesus Christ by a water baptism. Riley was raised in a Christian household…and along with her other siblings (an older sister, and a younger brother and sister) attended The Church of Christ.       

The faith and relationship that Riley established with Jesus Christ would later provide her with invaluable strength in the coming years.  

Over the course of a highly decorated career, Riley Gaines established herself as one of the most dominant swimmers in the history of Tennessee high school athletics…winning 7 state individual championships (out of 8 possible events…her only loss was finishing 2nd to a future Olympian), and setting numerous records.


It was no accident that Riley was heavily recruited (top 100 prospects in the USA) by many prestigious NCAA swimming programs throughout the country. 

Due to many factors, she selected the University of Kentucky (UK) Wildcats. 

Riley continued her diligent work ethic during her first year (2018-19) at UK, improving both technically and mechanically resulting in SEC All- freshman team. 

Riley was having an outstanding sophomore campaign (2019-20) and had high hopes for the NCAA Championships, but due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the event was cancelled.  

Disappointed, but undeterred, Riley’s next challenge (like thousands of collegiate athletes across the nation) was to adapt and find another place to train…as the NCAA shut down all college athletic facilities.  

Riley credits a strong faith, family bond, and mental toughness instilled by her father for being able to move forward and overcome this minor setback.

Specifically, Riley remembers her Father, Brad (a former football star RB/WR at Vanderbilt) having her (then age 11) jump into an ice filled pool. The purpose was to teach her that mental preparation comes before physical participation.

As a junior (2020-21) Riley had a record setting season that included an upset win in the 200 Yard Freestyle in the Championships conference which led UK to its first ever SEC swimming title…for either men or women!

The accolades and awards (All American status) poured in after a stellar performance at the NCAA Championships and set the stage for what Riley thought would be an unforgettable senior year. As fate would have it, she would be right on the money!

Riley Gaines in first place at SEC Swimming and Diving Championships | UK Athletics
Riley Gaines in first place at SEC Swimming and Diving Championships | UK Athletics

Senior Year

In August (2021) Riley, who is unvaccinated, contracted Covid and was physically unable train for 2 weeks…which is like a lifetime in the sport of competitive swimming.

Riley bounced back from this setback within a few months, only to contract Covid (the omicron strain) in December…and once again was sent home (Nashville) to quarantine. However, knowing that she couldn’t afford to take another extended amount of time off, found the strength and will to get back into the water within a few days.

Showing no ill effects from her layoffs, Riley had an explosive start to 2021-22 campaign! Her dedication, discipline, and determination were paying off…big time!

As the season progressed, there was an unforeseen and surprising development…an unknown swimmer from UPenn was posting shockingly remarkable swim times. This was highly unusual as Ivy League institutions were not recognized for their swimming programs and this competitor, Lia Thomas was a senior. 

The question…who was this rising superstar, Lia Thomas?  Upon further examination, it was discovered that Lia Thomas was actually a transgender person who had competed as William Thomas the previous 3 years on the men’s swim team…and was now competing as a woman. 

As the weeks passed, so did the controversy and alarm throughout the swim community.  How could this happen? Why was it allowed?

The overwhelming popular opinion is that it is unfair for biological males to compete against biological females as this defies science and logic. Further, statistics reflect that only 1% of the entire global population identifies as transgender. So how and why had this issue become a reality?

This issue slowly became a reality as defenders and activists of this cause used inclusivity as the basis for their reasoning, but in truth failed to consider the protection of women rights to keep the fairness of this biological competition in sports.  

This topic was tabled at many levels (local, state, national) and various institutions and governing bodies weighed in stating their case as the season progressed.

As the NCAA swimming championships loomed in March, the big question was would this biological male be permitted to compete against biological females. This definitely was a distraction as the focus of the event would be on a biological male swimming against biological females.   

Would Lia be allowed to compete?  The answer came… disappointing our nation, if not the world.  

The NCAA had bent to society’s woke culture and allowed this travesty to take place.  

The universal consensus is that they made the incorrect choice.


Riley, along with a packed natatorium full of onlookers, watched in utter disbelief on March 17th as Lia won the 500 Yard Freestyle swimming event, displacing the favored biological female (also an Olympic qualifier) and sadly making NCAA history…for all the wrong reasons.   

The NCAA had made an egregious error in judgment allowing Lia to compete in the National Championships against biological females.  

There were many questions to be answered by the beleaguered NCAA committee who made this decision.

The most pressing of which concerned the rightful and deserving opportunity of biological females to qualify (only 16 swimmers qualify in each event) and challenge for a place on the podium in the championship race, or to attain the coveted status of an all American (top 8 finishers) that they had trained a lifetime to achieve?  

The harsh reality is that the NCAA failed to protect biological female athletes, simultaneously shattering their dreams as Lia qualified for 3 events…thus costing 3 biological females the opportunity to qualify and another 3 All-American status. 

The NCAA Women’s tournament was supposed to be a celebration of the accomplishments of biological female swimmers in competition. 

Instead, the only celebration that took place was for a biological male, celebrating a victory in a women’s competition against a biological female.  

Riley was heartbroken by this, and the utter injustice done to the sisterhood of swimmers was surreal to witness. 

There was no outrage or criticism of what just transpired, only congratulations.  

This was primarily due to a gag order (muzzling) implemented by various college institutions that discreetly threatened (under the guise of inclusivity) NCAA female athletes who dared to speak out against this issue, or against Lia. 

Riley Gaines | Day four of the SEC Swim and Dive Championship | Photo by Elliott Hess | UK Athletics

Riley’s mind flashed with a lifetime of images of her swimming competitions and felt the pain of these young women with whom she had bonded over the years, both in the water and in spirit.

The accomplishments and moments of glory (both past and present) in women’s sports were literally washed away by the power vested in the NCAA and its disgraced male president, Mark Emmert (who has since resigned).  


The task at hand for Riley was to make a statement by calling upon every ounce of her being to defeat this challenger. Not just in the water, but in entirety of women’s sports…now and in the future.

 This was personal for Riley and the sisterhood of biological female athletes.  Yes, the honor and preservation of Title IX was on the line.  

"There was blood in the water
and only women bleed!" - Riley Gaines

Pressure, yes…just a little! 

That evening, Riley asked God in prayer for strength and focus to perform to the best of her ability and let His will be done.

Riley Gaines ties in 5th place with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas

The next day Riley stood confidently on the starting block a few lanes away from Lia before the finals of the 200 Yard Freestyle event.  

At the signal, Riley hit the water and left it all in the pool! Upon touching the wall to finish the race, Riley learned that she had tied with Lia (which is a rare occasion in the sport of swimming) for 5th place.  

Riley stepped onstage to graciously accept her award, but then another strange twist to this ongoing nightmare occurred. 

The presenter told Riley she would be holding the 6th place trophy and that Lia would be holding the 5th place one.    

Riley once again stood in disbelief. It wasn’t about the trophy (she had plenty of those at home), but rather how and why the NCAA once again (this was the 2nd event that Lia swam in) could inexplicably allow, and glorify the achievement of a biological male over a biological female in a women’s competition!  

Female swimmer ties in 5th place with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas and is told to hold the 6th place trophy

In that instant, Riley’s life would drastically change forever as she decided to speak up (questioning this decision for awarding the 5th place trophy to Lia) for biological female athletes…and hasn’t stopped since!   

Riley understood that this issue was much larger than her, or Lia.

It was about the future of female sports (all ages and levels).

The threat of being labeled, doxed, or cancelled by the woke crowd was not an option now.  

Riley knew she had the support of her family, teammates, coach, and the athletic director at UK. 

This issue wasn’t about a trans-individual.  It was about female gender equity. To honor those women who fought tirelessly and valiantly for decades for its cause. 

Riley Gaines is swimming against the current to save women's sports and protect female athletes.

Sadly lost in translation was that in just a few months (June), Title IX would be celebrating its 50th year anniversary.  

After Riley publicly expressed her opinion on the hypocrisy of the NCAA, she became a lightning rod for this topic and a media darling. Calls from talk shows (nationally and abroad), book publishers, and film producers followed. Various women’s rights groups reached out to her for appearances and speaking engagements.   

Perhaps most interesting was that liberal feminist groups joined with conservative female organizations in support of Riley and this issue. Riley had become a unifying force…for ALL women!


Upon her return to the University of Kentucky, Riley received the Southern Eastern Conference’s (SEC) highest honor for her academic contributions (scholar athlete) and community service.   

Next, Riley was called upon by the Kentucky state legislature (congress) to provide testimony that was vital in passing title 83…a law that prohibits scholastic competition between biological males and biological females.  

This was an epiphany for Riley as she now realized her mission was to make sure what had happened at the NCAA swimming championships would never occur again.    

Riley envisioned a federal law entitled “TITLE XX” (symbolizing female XX chromosomes) that would protect gender equity and honor biological females in athletic competition.

Until this situation unfolded, Riley, like so many other female athletes, had taken Title IX for granted.  Experiencing what transpired, Riley was awakened by the resonating sting of betrayal by the NCAA. She wanted accountability. 

With her collegiate career over, Riley found herself with a new opponent. Sadly ironic, it was a familiar organization, one that had provided her with an athletic scholarship and placed her in this position…the NCAA.

Launched to the forefront of this movement, Riley has embraced her role as ambassador for those seeking accountability and providing a voice for female athletes restricted from expressing themselves. 

Riley Gaines is swimming against the current to save women's sports and stand up for female athletes

Like previous advocates, innovators, and heroines, Riley has been subjected to criticism…but remains unfazed. 

Riley’s passion and purpose is to assist in implementing TITLE XX so that the NCAA will be powerless from allowing this to EVER happen again.

In order to garner awareness for TITLE XX, Riley has also developed a hand gesture to symbolize unity and promote a bond among female athletes. 

Riley is extremely conscious of the battle raging on land (track and field, cycling), sea (swimming), and air (skateboarding) for fairness in women’s sports…and has joined several organizations in allegiance to this call of duty!   

A rally (Independent Women’s Forum) at the nation’s capitol in Washington DC, and a convention (ICONS) in Las Vegas are both planned for June (2022).   

Riley understands that there is much more work to be done as she continues to swim against the current and in a few weeks will be making a major announcement regarding her future plans…stay tuned! 

Riley was recently married and currently resides with her husband, Louis (Louie) and her dog, Buddy in Nashville, TN.