Riley Gaines, originally from Gallatin, Tennessee, is an American former competitive swimmer who represented the University of Kentucky NCAA swim team. In 2022, she received the Southeastern Conference Women’s Swimming and Diving Scholar-Athlete of the Year award. Her affinity for sports is not surprising, considering her lineage. Her father, Brad Gaines, was a football player at Vanderbilt University, while her mother, Telisha Gaines, was a softball athlete at Donelson Christian Academy and Austin Peay. During her time at Station Camp High School, Gaines displayed her prowess by winning both the 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter freestyle at the TISCA High School Swim & Dive Championship in 2017.
While at the University of Kentucky, Gaines had a stellar performance, making the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2019 and the All-SEC Second Team in both 2019 and 2020. In 2021, she came second in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay and seventh in the 200m freestyle race during the NCAA Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships, earning her a spot on the All-SEC First Team. Notably, in the 2022 200-yard NCAA freestyle championship, she tied for fifth place with Lia Thomas, the first openly trans woman champion in the NCAA women’s division.
Gaines has been a vocal critic of the inclusion of trans women in women’s sports. She lobbied her state representatives in April 2022, aiming for a law to prohibit trans women from participating in women’s sports. She also featured in a TV ad supporting US Senator Rand Paul’s campaign, where she spoke against trans women in women’s sports.
In June 2023, Gaines testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on civil rights for LGBTQ Americans, where she shared her personal experiences of competing with trans swimmer Lia Thomas.