Only the Good Die Young

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

The above quote has been a rallying cry in the year since the great Fran Crippen passed away tragically during an open water race in the UAE one year ago from today. It has rallied its way around Twitter, and is a total encapsulation of the way that Fran approached his training and competition.

But he was not the first to use this phrase. The man who made it famous was former American distance runner Steve Prefontaine in the 1970’s.

Outside of the gates of competition, the two were not similar. I am not old enough to remember the man known simply as “Pre,” but growing up around track & field, I’ve heard many of the tales. Prefontaine was a rebel and loner, and referred to as the “James Dean of the track.” Crippen was known to his friends and competitors as a warm and caring person, who even once stopped to help his friend Alex Meyer finish a race.

But when each was in their medium of specialty, they trained as hard as anybody and both raced as hard as anybody. Both men are given credit for an explosion of attention to their sport, though Crippen’s effect is likely only felt after his death. And both men were taken from us when they still had much to give to both sport and the world, though under vastly different circumstances. While Crippen died in the midst of a race, Prefontaine died in a car accident.

There are other blogs and other writers who are better qualified to wax poetic about Fran as a man. I neither knew him personally nor had I ever met him. But here’s what I do know – his memory has had staying power. Plenty of people are mourned after their deaths in ways that are seemingly incongruous to their lives; people who might be talented, but didn’t live their lives as good people. After an initial outpouring of grief over jaded memories, their lives are quickly degraded into caricatures and fodder for satirists.

You can tell the quality of a person when they are more remembered for their successes than their failures long after their deaths. This is true of Pre, who is still revered in track circles to this day, even 37 years later. And, a year after his death, for Fran to have taken over the torch of ownership in a new generation for one of the most succinct and perfectly precise descriptions of the honorable spirit of sport shouts volumes about the man himself and the legacy that he has left. Fran lives on vicariously through the memories of those who knew him best.

So today, don’t sit at home alone in Fran’s honor. Don’t weep and mourn in solace and silence. Whatever it is you do, whatever it is that you’re good at, go out and do it. If that is swimming, then go do some laps. If you’re best at writing, then blog away. If running, or painting, or connecting with young people, or helping others, or gardening is what you do, let Fran’s dedication to his passion renew your passion for your infatuation, because to do anything less is to sacrifice the gift.

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10 years ago

I got to know Fran during my time as GM at the Nadadores and I can say I’m a better man when I remember the enthusiasm, strength and humor Fran shared with us on a daily basis. The world is a better place when we all remember to try and live like Fran.

Jon Bowman
11 years ago

Once again this year – Fran will be honored at the Tom Dolan Invitational – hosted by the Curl-Burke Swim Club, 12/8-12/11/2011. Fran’s sister Maddie will be attending the meet on Sunday and handing out the “Fran Crippen Memorial Mile” awards – given to the top 13-14 and Open/Senior miler at the meet in each gender. for details.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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