GAINESVILLE — During her attempt last fall to deal with unspeakable grief, Florida junior Teresa Crippen was briefly unsure if she wanted to swim again this season for the Gators.
But as she mourned the death of her beloved older brother Fran, the 26-year-old U.S. national team member who died Oct. 23 while competing in the FINA Open Water 10K World Cup, Crippen realized swimming was what she needed most.
"It (not returning) crossed my mind briefly," said Crippen, 20. "But there was no way that I wasn't going to come back to this team. This is what I love doing. I love swimming, and Fran would never, ever want me to stop doing what I love because he never did. And if I would have stopped, then something more that I love would have been missing from my life.
"I knew that there was no way that I was going to leave this team behind, leave the coaches or leave the pool."
It is that love of the sport — and dedication to her team — that has endeared Crippen to her coaches and teammates and made her a vital member of the Gators' team. A native of Conshohocken, Pa., who like her three older siblings began swimming as a child, Crippen is a seven-time All-American and five-time All-SEC selection.
"She's a super person," said UF coach Gregg Troy, who made the agonizing plane ride home with Crippen when she received news of the tragedy. "She has tremendous work ethic and real big dedication. She's an outstanding student. While she's very intense and hard on herself, she's extremely understanding with teammates. So it's kind of that perfect mixture of what you're looking for from a coach's standpoint. She's a great team swimmer and will swim anything, so she's a pretty versatile athlete."
The Gators begin competition today in the SEC swimming championships at the O'Connell Center. Crippen is the defending SEC 400 IM champion.
For now, it's all about the Gators and this weekend's championship.
"You never want to lose in your home pool," Crippen said. "It does add a little more excitement. You know it's going to be loud; it's going to be crowded. And I think we'll take that in stride and use it to our advantage."
In her efforts to move forward, she has found solace in the pool and in trying to make something positive out of her brother's death. The Crippen family has started the Elevation Foundation (francrippen.com) in his memory.
"He always wanted his dream to come true and would go to any lengths just to see his dreams of getting an Olympic berth," Crippen said. "And he strived hard for that every day. He was known for his work ethic around the community and his passion for the sport. He did it all in such a way that left everyone around him touched by him, and he took a piece of everybody.
"So that's kind of what we're doing with the foundation. We've set it up to provide aid for athletes. We want to have scholarships and help out the postgrads of the world who want to continue swimming but may not have the financial means."
And they want safety for others, too. Fran Crippen was found in the water two hours after others noticed he didn't finish the race in the United Arab Emirates.
"We want to be an advocate for safety around the pool, around the open water and especially anything that we can do about lifeguards on the scene in open water, safety temperatures, anything that will make the environment safer for the athletes," Crippen said. "We're not trying to get rules changed, just trying to bring awareness to some of the lack of safety precautions that are out there and try to bring awareness to people that there is more that everybody can do if they put their mind to it.
"It should have never happened, and it should never happen again to any other family."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]