Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation's Ad Ingeium Faciendum

Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation’s Ad Ingeium Faciendum

Older sister Maddy Crippen gave a wonderful closing speech about at the Open Water Swimming Safety Conference in San Francisco over the weekend.

Below is her speech which will be available via video on the U.S. Masters Swimming website.

Thank you for allowing me to be here with you today. As you know, my name is Maddy Crippen. I swam for the US in the pool during the 2000 Olympic Games. I am here tonight to speak to you on behalf of my brother, Fran.

Fran was an elite swimmer in both the pool and the open water, but it was in the open water where he really found his passion. I am going to tell you about Fran, his dreams, and how they align with the Open Water Swimming Community and this conference.

As I prepared to come here this week I read an article this week that referenced a phrase ‘Ad ingenium faciendum’. The translation is “toward the building of character.” The author believed Ad ingenium faciendum was the essence of an educational experience – struggling, succeeding, trying again and having fun within a nurturing but competitive environment. He said this experience is what builds character.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but reflect on how this idea Ad ingenium faciendum is essential to Open Water Swimming’s current state of sport. And how, in an ironic twist of fate, really defines the life of Fran Crippen – struggling, succeeding, trying again and having fun…within a nurturing but competitive environment.

Those thoughts led me to reflect on this gathering and the reason we are all here for the first annual Global Open Water Swimming Safety Conference. Over the course of the last five months, I have become a quick study in the history of Open Water Swimming, and the culture that exists beyond the lane lines and flip turns. It is the sport of swimming in its most raw and natural form and my brother loved it and the community it created.

Watching Fran immerse himself in this community taught me that swimming literally spans cultures, languages, and religions. Fran assimilated into the open water community so well that he became an integral part of the OWS community and one of its biggest advocates. It is this same community has since that embraced him, and me, after his tragic passing last October. And now I am working to channel this community’s outpouring of love and support into something that can yield positive effect for swimming.

In the past months Fran‘s family and friends created the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation. This Foundation was established to embody the qualities and dreams that he held dear. Fran believed in competing at
your highest potential, achieving your dreams, and doing it in a competitive, but safe environment.

Are there dangers involved in swimming in open, uncontrolled environments? Of course. Every sport has its risk. Every day, people get hurt. Break bones. Incur concussions. And most tragically, lose their life. This doesn’t mean sport should stop. It just means the focus has to be redirected to the athlete. The athlete’s safety and well being, no matter what level of experience, must be each responsible person’s priority, first and foremost.

Almost immediately after hearing the news of my brother’s death, I had the urge to pick up his flag and run it across the finish line. And one of the many dreams of Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation was to grow the sport of open water swimming. It is this fervor to continue his legacy and carry his flag across the finish line that has brought us together this weekend. To make his dreams and goals resonate throughout the Global Open Water swimming Community.

I applaud everyone in this room for seeing through the questions that exist in the sport currently and understand that with a universal vision, the sport can continue to succeed and offer each member of its community a nurturing but competitive environment.

As a point of reference, let me step back and give you a brief history of the journey that led me to you today. I come from a family of swimmers. As the oldest of my parents’ four children, I supposedly led my siblings into the ocean and bay, and subsequently the pool. It was not planned and started in a very organic fashion. I asked to join a swim team at eight. My brother Fran tagged along, because that’s what little brothers do. Our sisters, Claire and Teresa were a bit younger and in between their ballet rehearsals and soccer practices, they had to go to swim meets to cheer on their sister and brother. They eventually jumped in too and were hooked. Becoming competitive swimmers never really was discussed. We were all just pretty good and we liked the water.

As we grew and matured, the sport played a different and very personal role in each our lives. For my sisters, and me, it was (and is) a stage of life. Our passion for swimming was (and is) strong enough to drive a fierce commitment for a decade, and fortunately a chance to compete at the Olympic Trials. My sister Claire just finished her last race of her career tonight at NCAAs. For Fran, being a swimmer was different.

My mom always said, “You girls are passionate, but Fran, he is fanatical.”

For him, swimming was not a box he would check off. It was a lifestyle and as a professional swimmer, he often said he was living the dream. So Fran‘s death was wretched news for the obvious reasons. He was our beloved son, brother, boyfriend, friend, teammate and the tragedy of a young life ending so early and abruptly was and still is heartbreaking. But the illogical means by which Fran passed made his death that much more inconceivable. Fran drowned while swimming in a 10K race. Was the water warm? Yes. Were the conditions ideal? No.

But ultimately, there was a moment when he was swimming. And a moment when he stopped. And no one saw this moment. There was not a trained professional there to provide supervision and be close enough to Fran to save his life.

As you can image, upon hearing these circumstances, I immediately became committed to making big changes, just like Fran would. I went on Good Morning America and talked about my plans, I told CNN that we would stop these drownings, I even stood on top of the Rocky steps in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – a place my brother held most as sacred – and I droned on about my devotion to keeping the sport safe for everyone. I was devoted to dedicating myself to making sure this tragedy never occurred again.

But as I made these passionate promises, I didn’t think about the thousands of races that go on throughout the world. I didn’t think about everyone in this room’s job. Your lives. Your passion. I was ignorant to the widespread popularity of the sport.

But then, two months after Fran’s death, again halfway around the world, a 45-year-old man failed to finish the Midmar Mile. I had heard of this race’s impeccable reputation and immediately I thought, “How could I be so naïve? There is no way I could control accidents. This revelation was big for me. I am a glass is half full kind of girl. And all the sudden, the glass looked empty.”

I continued to reflect on the Minmar tragedy and was thinking about it when I came across Ad ingenium faciendum. I thought about the role of struggle in building character and realized that this phase I am going through – this struggling – it is all part of the education process that is building my character.

And the struggle that Open Water Swimming is experiencing is a necessary step as the sport continues to grow and organize itself. Fran’s death is a harsh reminder that awareness and training are the only weapons we have in the protection of both this great sport and the athletes that choose to compete. And we are here to raise awareness of to that need. It was this revelation – that each peak and valley are character builders for both me and the sport – that filled the glass again. If there is one thing I learned from this tragedy, it is that you cannot control everything. BUT together we can make a difference.

With each conversation, each conference, each swim, we can bring awareness. And awareness is half the battle. If no one knew about the problem, no one would do anything about it. There is a guy named Seth Godin. He is marketing guru with the outstanding ability to simplify life and make it seem conquerable. He recently came out with a new book Poke the Box. The book is about how we are in an era of ‘editors.’

Everyone likes to critique, and put in their two cents. Every day the news is filled with ‘Monday Morning Quarterbacks’ who judge others performances. Very few of us actually start and finish projects. And as he says, make a ruckus and take risks. He quotes a man named Henry Miller in his book, “All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.” Reading those words brought me back to my declarations of drowning prevention and the idea of character building. By carrying Fran’s flag, by starting the foundation, and by coming here today I am taking that ‘leap in the dark,’ and as Seth says, “That is a good thing.” I am going to work to preventing drowning in Open Water Swimming. And you are too.

I flew here last night thinking about all these things. About Fran. About swimming. About character. About safety. About this sport. And about growth. I thought about how you are all here together because you have the guts, the heart, and the passion to grow. You have a goal, an obtainable goal, and this is a step forward. As a group of passionate people, you are going out there and making a ruckus. You aren’t just thinking about it. You are doing. And I am proud to be a part of this.

While I was having my moments of misgiving, the negative feeling was even more impactful because, when Fran first died I felt like he whispered in my ear. He told me, “I had to work a little harder, scream a little louder, fight a little tougher because it wasn’t just about me anymore.”

As I doubted my ability to positively affect change, I was simultaneous giving up the dream. And Fran was all about dream. He had a dream of coming to coming out to California and swimming for Mission Viejo (check), of winning medals for his country in international competition (check) and ultimately making the Olympic Team. Fran didn’t get to accomplish his last goal, but, for Fran, half the battle was establishing the goal and having the courage to go after it.

It is in that vein that my parents chose – Work the Dream – as the slogan for his foundation. Fran looked at each day as an opportunity to make a difference. He lived this life by this one creed. Every moment made a difference. Every day mattered. Every person counted. So it is now my job to work this dream of Fran’s and help you keep the waters open and safe for all athletes. We will do this together by embracing every moment and making sure every day matters and ever person counts.

As part of the Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation, we will be rolling out a program in the next twenty-four months called Team Fran. Our goal is to empower people to compete in endurance events and “Live Like Fran”.

Members of Team Fran will be connected to a group of individuals – both literally and in spirit – who believe that giving anything less than their best is to sacrifice the gift. Part of giving one’s best, one’s all, is the ability to dream, to set a goal and to work with others to achieve it. Team Fran will support athletes of all ability levels in this pursuit of their dreams by offering support for various athletic events.

As Fran pursued his dream of an Olympic berth, he believed no one’s passion should be hindered due to financial reasons. The Fran Crippen Elevation Foundation will use the funds raised by Team Fran to provide financial support to committed athletes like Fran, empowering them to continue to work their dream and reach their goals. I am introducing this concept to you today because there is a very good chance that in the next few months you will be hearing from me or someone involved in the Foundation, asking for feedback and the opportunity to have Team Fran compete in your events.

If you have any initial thoughts about how we could make this model more successful, we would love to hear your ideas. There are flyers here today with contact information or you can log onto FranCrippen.com,francrippen.com and send us a note.

I would like to end by thanking you all for including me this weekend. Everyone in this room has the vision necessary to grow this outstanding sport and allow it to influence as many lives as possible. Together, we have the dream to give every person that dives in the water a standard of safety that should not be questioned.

That is the dream. And this weekend, you are working the dream. I would now like to take a few moments to show you a video about Fran. My hope is that it will help you, Work the Dream.


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