By Swimming World Intern Justin Sweetwood
PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, January 12. THROUGHOUT the weekend, swimmers have been battling it out in the pool at this year’s CeraVe Invitational. Taking place at the Sonny Werblin Recreation Center on the Rutgers University campus, swimmers from across the country made the journey to compete here. They fought hard throughout all of the events, but even harder to honor the memory of the late Fran Crippen.
At the spectator and athlete entrance to building, people accepted donations for Crippen’s foundation, the Elevation Foundation. They handed out flyers, which told about Crippen’s life, and how the donatioins would be used. At the top of the flyers, there was a quote from Crippen about his goal, and what he thought his purpose was.
“I wanted to try and do something that would express my gratitude but have since realized that there isn’t anything that would properly display my appreciation. My hope is that one day I am in the position where I can pay it forward and support an athlete while they pursue their passion.”
Before tonight’s final, Fran Crippen’s sister Claire accepted a check for $1,500, an impressive sum for a three-day regional meet. As she often is when representing her brother, Claire was emotional when accepting the donations.
Growing up in Fort. Washington, Pa., Fran Crippen started swimming at age 6 because he was inspired by his sister Maddy, who later competed at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Another sister, Claire, was also a big swimmer and was an NCAA All-American and an Olympic Trials qualifier. His third of three sisters, Teresa, is a Pan-American Games champion in the 200 backstroke and also a U.S National Team member.
Crippen went on to swim at the University of Virginia where he was an 11-time All-American. He was a member of USA Swimming, and was a six-time U.S National Champion. Eventually he made the switch to open water swimming and became an instant success, winning medals at the world championships. Unfortunately, he died in 2010 at age 26, racing at FINA’s 2010 10K series in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates. This was the first death at any FINA-related event, and immediately opened an investigation that focused on safety matters. Other swimmers competing in the race noted that the water temperature was a lot warmer than normal, at 86 degrees Fahrenheit. The air temperature was also 100 degrees, and Crippen was noted telling his coach during the race that he was thirsty. Crippen died of cardiac abnormality brought on by dehydration.
Swimmers and coaches from all over the world were deeply saddened at the news of his death, and everyone described him as a tremendous person. Those emotions were felt in the building tonight as the audience applauded and honored Fran with a moment of silence. Crippen grew up racing for Germantown Academy Aquatic Club, which is one of the swimming teams at this year’s CeraVe Invitational. The men’s 1500 freestyle at the meet is named in his honor.
The Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation supports athletes as they reach for their athletic dreams, just as Crippen did and wanted. They supply swimmers from around the country with a one-year grant that they have to apply for, to help them financially achieve their dreams of representing the United States in the Olympics. It also acts to raise awareness about the dangers in open water swimming, and how to keep the sport safe, which Crippen always pursued.
When asked what her brother would think about the foundation, Claire said: “I would like to think that he would be proud and that we are trying to fight for something that he always fought for. Safety was always his biggest concern, even up to his race in Dubai.”
Crippen wrote a letter to USA Swimming and the U.S national team coach before his death trying to advocate for safety in open water swimming. He also tried to help younger athletes financially so they would be able to increase their chances of representing the U.S. National Team, which is one of the objectives of the foundation in his memory.
Though there are many adjectives floating around that describe Fran Crippen perfectly, Claire’s word this evening was “friend.” It did not matter to him if the person was younger or older, or a fierce rival; he was always there for them and treated them with the same amount of respect and love as he would treat anyone else. He was noted as always giving people his time, making a personal connection with whomever he met, and trying to develop a friendship out of a conversation.
Crippen wanted others to succeed just as much as he did, and returned to Germantown Academy Aquatic Club often. A current GAAC member who used to have Crippen as a coach described him as a hard-working friend. Another member noted how great he was working with and for younger children, who were often 6 years old and younger.
Crippen was so young, and had all of his life ahead of him. He has been missed every day since his death, and this year’s CeraVe Invitational has reminded everyone of exactly that.
You can donate to the Crippen Crippen Elevation Foundation at francrippen.org.