Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fran Crippen: One Year Later

On January 3, I posted a blog discussing the long-lasting mark Fran Crippen left on our sport. The world remembers Crippen as an amazing swimmer and caring man, as his sister Claire discussed on Friday’s edition of the Morning Swim Show. He was a fierce competitor and a favorite to make the U.S. Olympic team in Open Water for 2012. When the top Open Water swimmers arrived in Fort Lauderdale for the National Championships this June, Crippen’s absence created a major hole in the competition. The top two finishers at that meet would earn berths for the World Championships in Shanghai and a chance to make the London Olympics, as the top ten from that meet automatically qualified.

In Fort Lauderdale, Eva Fabian and Christine Jennings earned the women’s spots bound for Shanghai. Both swam in that same race in Dubai in which Crippen lost his life, and neither finished the race, as both ended up in the hospital suffering from dehydration. On the men’s side, Alex Meyer and Sean Ryan qualified for the World Championships. Meyer, especially, had a connection to Crippen. Months after Crippen turned around to help Meyer to shore when the latter became ill during the 10k at Pan Pacs, Meyer led the search for Crippen’s body when his friend failed to finish in Dubai.

In Shanghai, Fabian and Jennings both failed to make the cut for the Olympic team, but the next day, Meyer finished in fourth place in the men’s race, earning himself a ticket to London. Afterwards, Meyer stated that while he would have liked Ryan to qualify to make it two Americans headed to London, he believed the second spot needed to remain open for Crippen, demonstrating the impact Crippen made on American Open Water swimming. That impact spread to the pool; at both the 2010 Short Course and 2011 Long Course World Championships, the American team wore the letters “FC” on their warm-up jackets.

When I last wrote about Fran Crippen, I discussed the impact Fran had on the formation of my new swim team, the LTP Racing Club. My coach swam with Fran at the University of Virginia and stayed in contact in the years following. He used a quote from Fran on the back of our first team t-shirts. Fran’s connection with the team goes deeper; he died the very same day as the team swam its very first meet. Since then, he has been our inspiration, our inspiration to keep dreaming and keep pushing towards new heights in and out of the pool, and our inspiration to honor him on the one-year anniversary of his death.

In Claire Crippen’s interview on Friday, she spoke of the week after Fran died. At that point, she swam for Virginia, while Teresa continues to swim at Florida. Back at home almost immediately, both realized just two days later that Fran would have wanted them back in the pool, and Tuesday morning, a mere 72 hours following Fran’s death, the two went to practice at Germantown Academy with their old coach Richard Shoulberg. After Fran’s death, the two had expressed doubts about continuing their swimming careers, but Fran’s passion and excitement for swimming encouraged them to get back in the water and keep striving towards their goals, Claire towards her final ACC Championships and NCAA Champions and Teresa towards the World Championships, where she made the semi-finals of the 200 fly.

Thus, the memory of Fran Crippen exemplifies the true nature of swimming: passion. This includes the passion to get up at 4:45 in the morning every day all summer to swim; the passion to push passed preconceived limits with sights set on becoming the best swimmer one can be; and the passion to support your friends and teammates after tough races or rough patches in life with the promise of improvement down the road. Whenever passion for swimming may dwindle, look no further for inspiration than Fran Crippen. Fran left behind hopes of a safer sport, one where no athlete will ever again lose his life in competition, and he provides the fuel for Alex Meyer, Teresa Crippen, the LTP Racing Club, and swimmers around the world to live their dreams.

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