See also: Only the Good Die Young – Remembering Fran Crippen one year later.
The swimming community has been hit by an epidemic. An epidemic of those taken from us far too early, with far too much left to give to the world. Alexander Dale Oen, Alec Cosgarea, Christian Donze, Peter Chi, David Schmitt..;the list goes on and is far too long.
Today, October 23rd, 2012, we remember the two-year anniversary of one of these tragic losses, Fran Crippen, and his leadership.
In swimming as in life, there are those who are natural leaders. Often, this honor is bestowed upon them with a title, such as by being named Team Captains (as Fran was at the University of Virginia). Sometimes, though, we don’t have to be told who the leaders are. Sometimes, we can see it in all of those who they touch.
Fran was just that special kind of leader. One year ago, it was a time to remember, honor, and cherish the memory of Fran, that left us all committing to give our best, for “anything less was to sacrifice the gift.” Now, another year onward, though remembering the legacy is still valuable, Fran has posthumously led us down a corollary trail. One that he fought in life, but where his voice was amplified in death.
A fight: a fight supported by the entirety of his peers: the fight for open water safety. There are different opinions on what exactly will make open water safer and how it should be done, but the overarching agreement is that we’re still not there. FINA has made changes, but they have not been enough. Fran’s family, his friends, and in many cases those who only know him by legend and legacy, have taken up his torch. In a world of swimming where governing bodies hold all of the authority and saying the wrong thing can lead to swift rebuke and exclusion, the current athletes have had no fear to be vocal.
Alex Meyer, Crippen’s primary protegee, has taken up the torch most vocally. As he put it in his State of the Sport editorial, “Up until my dear friend and mentor Fran Crippen’s death during a 2010 FINA 10k World Cup, I had never once considered the notion of my own safety during a race. Honestly, no swimmer should ever have to – this is the responsibility of the host organizations, their officials, and to some extent the coaches present – the athletes’ job is to focus solely on their performance.”
Steve Munatones echoes those sentiments in a recent post, saying that “It is frankly a deadly combination when water temperatures are up to 31°C and air temperature are even greater. Unfortunately, Fran Crippen and others are tragically no longer here to argue this point.” He has been fighting for open water safety for more than a decade, at a time when Fran was the only athlete who was even remotely concerned about open water safety.
Crippen is no longer here to argue his point, but people like Munatones and Meyer have taken up his cries and multiplied them by a factor of nearly the entire open water community.
That leadership will be another section of Crippen’s considerable legacy. He loved his sport, he was passionate about his life and his sport, and he is still lighting the way for the future.
Perhaps it is appropriate then that two years after his death, his leadership still drives swimming forward. The foundation started in his honor and his inspiration, the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation, saw a huge success from the first two athletes whose Olympic dreams they sponsored. Matt McLean defied odds to make the 800 free relay for the Olympics, and there won a gold medal, and Ashley Twichell went from totally devoid of open water experience to the precipice of Olympic qualifying in only a year.
Though Fran didn’t personally select either athlete, those who did were undoubtedly influenced by him. This isn’t just an organization that adopted his name because they were admirers from afar, it is one overseen by those who were very close to Fran, and those who understood him.
Swimming misses you Fran, but you live on in those whose lives you touched.