Fran Crippen celebrates his gold medal on the podium after the men's swimming marathon 10-kilometer final at the XV Pan American Games on July 14, 2007 at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
“I wanted to try and do something that would express my gratitude but have since realized 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.”
Fran Crippen hand wrote those words to the Godbe family about two years before he tragically died in in the final race of FINA’s 10-kilometer open-water swimming series in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates in 2010.
He wanted to thank the Godbes for letting him stay with them while he trained in 2007 and 2008 in Mission Viejo, Calif.
|Teresa Crippen holds up a picture of her brother Fran Crippen.
Like the film “Pay It Forward,” Crippen’s tragic passing has created a movement. His vision, his quest, his goal is being fulfilled.
The Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation has been established.
On Saturday, approximately 65 elite female and male swimmers from around the world competed in the inaugural Crippen Cup 10K Marathon Invitational at Miromar Lakes in Florida.
After that race, there also was the Crippen Kids “Buddy” Swim and Crippen Sunset Mile Benefit Swim, which helped raise money for other dreamers who want to pursue excellence. The races also keep the memory alive of a man who was a six-time U.S. champion, an 11-time All-American and two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Swimmer of the Year from the University of Virginia.
In his last race, Crippen swam to exhaustion, then drowned.
Andreas Waschburger’s eyes well up as he recalled a great competitor whom he spoke with shortly before that race.
“When he died, I’ll never forget this moment,” Waschburger, a 2012 Olympian for Germany, said through an interpreter. “After the race, we searched for two hours.
“He was very friendly, everyone liked him. He always smiled.
“The whole thing touched me.”
Crippen Cup race director Gregg Cross still gets choked up when he thinks of this buddy, a gregarious, friendly guy — a guy who sister Teresa said could connect with people 8 to 80 — dying alone.
“That nobody was there with him still bothers me,” Cross said as a youth clinic was about to start. “If he was here, Fran would jump out of the tent and be down there with the kids and he’d turn it into a brotherhood.
|Alex Meyer (R) shortly after winning the inaugural Crippen Cup
“Every now and then, I’ll pull some of the kids aside and I’ll say, ‘How many of you know the story of Fran Crippen?’ Then I’ll say, ‘Here’s why I want do to do an open-water swim.’”
Teresa Crippen said her parents occasionally come to events through Fran’s foundation and love to interact with the swimmers, but their grief often outweighs their joy. So she and sister Maddy do the brunt of the work with the foundation.
“I always wanted to be like my brother,” she said. “I wanted to be exactly like him, so I’d follow him around. My shoulders would get beat up when I took his punches. But that’s the reason I am who I am today. …
“I’ll never get over it. It’s still fresh in my mind. Friends will tell you I was a wreck for months and months after he died. I will not get over it; it’s something that’s part of me.
“But it’s best to talk about it. The pain will never go away. But I never want Fran to go away.”
Teresa and Maddy Crippen, and Cross worked together with USA Swimming Open Water Program Manager Bryce Elser of USA Swimming to make the foundation happen.
“The idea was a way which we could show our respect to the Crippen family and honor Fran’s life,” Elser said. “And as organizers, we all have the same goal, to grow the sport.”
Teresa Crippen added, “It’s a true collaboration. We all have the same goals in mind — a safe event, a way to raise money and a world-class event.”
Cross said the next step to building the sport and foundation is to have international team competition, much like the golf’s Ryder Cup.
|Teresa Crippen and Alex Meyer pose for a photo at the inaugural Crippen Cup.
“I thought, ‘Why am I watching this, I don’t play golf?’” he said. “Then it clicked with me. It was about teams. I thought, ‘We gotta take this concept.’ Individual is important, but let’s make it where it’s more teamwork.”
It just seemed right that Crippen’s roommate on all his adventures — Alex Meyer — won the inaugural event. Meyer basically drafted Canadian bronze medalist Richard Weinberger for most of the race before having enough of a kick to edge him and Waschburger.
“It never quite goes away,” Meyer said of his pain. “For a year-and-a-half, we were really good friends. It seems a lot longer that. We were closer than that. I like to remember the happy stuff.
“You know for Fran and for me, the greatest thing about this swim stuff is being with all these people on the beach. It’s a really fun weekend. It didn’t matter where I finished. I put more of an emphasis on having a fun event and everything came together. For Fran, traveling around and being with friends and family was more important to him than anything.”
Craig Handel is a reporter with The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.