CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (AP) – Fran Crippen was remembered as a swimmer whose “passion and dream” was to represent the United States in the Olympics. Those closest to him also want Crippen’s death to serve as a reminder that the way he died should “never happen to anyone else.”
A week after the 26-year-old Crippen died during a World Cup race in the Middle East, he was described by a former coach as a swimmer whose only speed was “all out.” Crippen was praised for his love of swimming, his friendship and his sense of humor. Hundreds of mourners attended a 2-hour funeral mass at Saint Matthew Catholic Church in suburban Philadelphia, where he was buried later in the day. An overflow crowd watched the ceremony on video at a nearby hall.
His girlfriend, Caitlin Regan, told a story about asking Crippen for his favorite city among all those in the world he’d visited. Crippen smiled and said, “Have you ever heard of a little place called Conshohocken?”
Before the service, mourners got a glimpse of Crippen’s life through the pictures affixed to boards placed down the center aisle of the church. He was smiling in about all of them — as a boy in a cowboy hat, flexing at a pool, kissing a Starbucks coffee cup, wearing a miniature plastic Phillies cap as an adult.
Crippen was competing in the FINA Open Water 10-kilometer World Cup in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, last Saturday when he failed to finish and was found in the water two hours later.
He was an 11-time All-American and two time Atlantic Coast Conference swimmer of the year while competing at the University of Virginia. Virginia coach Mark Bernardino described Crippen as a man with “laughter alive in his eyes.”
Many people at the service wore a “V” on their chests next to an orange “FC” ribbon to honor him.
“He was a star on the rise when he arrived at Virginia,” Bernardino said.
Bernardino choked up describing Crippen as a new big brother for his two young sons. Crippen was a constant presence in the coach’s house, playing games and making two boys under 10 years old feel as if “they were kings of the world.”
“He didn’t know how to knock or ring a doorbell,” Bernardino said to laughter. “The door would just fly open and Fran would bellow, ‘Yo! Anybody home?”‘
He turned serious when he talked about Crippen’s love for his three sisters.
Crippen comes from a family of accomplished swimmers. His sister, Maddy Crippen, swam for Villanova and competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Claire Crippen was an NCAA All-American at Virginia, and Teresa Crippen currently swims for the University of Florida and is a member of the U.S. national team.
Family and friends believe Crippen’s death was a preventable tragedy involving a still-emerging sport that has grown in popularity since it was added to the Olympic program for the first time at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Two separate investigations into his death are under way — one conducted by swimming’s international governing body, FINA, the other by USA Swimming.
The circumstances of his death were mostly avoided during the service. The Rev. William Kelly used the words of one of Crippen’s sisters when describing the swimmer’s legacy. They want the tragic way Crippen died to “never happen to anyone else.”
Crippen’s girlfriend said he had the 2012 London Olympics squarely in his sights.
“I know when I was around Fran, he made me feel like the most important person in the world and that I could do things that I never dreamed I could accomplish,” Regan said.
Crippen won a bronze medal in the 10K at last year’s world championships and looked to be one of the favorites heading into London. An American flag button adorned several suits and the service ended with everyone singing “God Bless America.”
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