Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

October 23rd 2010 is a day never to forget in the open water swimming world.

Fran Crippen (April 17th 1984 – October 23rd 2010) was a gentlemen. A hero. An inspiration. His legacy is not only as a world-class athlete, but as someone you would be proud to have as a son, brother, teammate and friend.

He was always there for his very close-knit family. He was always lending an ear and hand to friends. He was always there for his teammates and he always had time for fans and younger swimmers.

On the 8th-year anniversary of Crippen’s death in Dubai at a FINA World Cup race organized by FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee Ayman Saad, we bow our heads in respect and awe of his life and legacy and of his family. It is with obvious reason that the Crippen Family is rightly called the First Family of Swimming in the United States.

Thinking about what Fran had been lobbying before his death for FINA-sanctioned and FINA-officiated races, we recall that FINA decision-makers have always pointed out that they must consult with experts in the field first to determine safety standards. In their opinion, experts are medical professionals and researchers.

In contrast, we believe the experts in the world of marathon swimming are the swimmers themselves. In our opinion, the experts with whom FINA and other governing bodies should listen to first and foremost are the athletes. It is what Fran always wanted and pushed for.

Even without medical educations or research experience, it is the athletes who willingly compete in a sport with inherent risks. Their bodies are THE most practical laboratories for real-world testing; not some far-off research facility with test tubes and syringes. The athletes know first-hand what their bodies feel like and can withstand under extreme conditions. There are approximately 250 athletes every year who compete in professional marathon swims on the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit and the FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix series. There are another few hundreds of athletes worldwide who do at least two marathon swims every year. These experienced athletes – swimmers who have done dozens and dozens of swims around the world in myriad conditions – are the real experts. Their collective wisdom and body of cumulative knowledge are second to none when it comes to understanding how the human body can and does react while marathon swimming.

In contrast, it is unlikely for medical professionals and researchers to know well the physiological stresses that marathon swimmers go through under extreme conditions unless they are an open water swimmer or coaches themselves.

To know first-hand as an athlete or to see first-hand how athletes handle extreme conditions after hours in the open water should be a requirement to be considered an expert by FINA and other governing bodies.

While certain physiological conditions can be replicated, implied, assumed and tested in laboratory conditions or relative to comparable tests with land-based athletes, the actual physiological conditions that marathon swimmers face under inhospitable conditions are extraordinarily variable. Every marathon swimmer knows this, either as a result of intensive training or swimming a grueling race.

Dozens of open water swimmers and triathletes have died worldwide in the open water over the last several years. Fran was not the only individual who tragically passed away. Fran, as everyone knew, not only lobbied for himself. Fran was always unselfishly striving to make those around him and the sport better. That is what Fran asked for before his death.

He is looking down on us to see what we are doing with his simple, wise and reasonable request.

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