In the span of only about 24 hours, the open water swimming community has been reminded twice – in the most tragic way possible – that our sport may have more in common with mountain climbing than it does with pool swimming.
Open water swimming can take many forms, but at it’s heart it’s an extreme sport – with extreme dangers. These dangers are both external – as in Lucas Ransom’s fatal encounter with a great white shark off the Central California coast – and internal – as in Fran Crippen’s sudden death from (apparently) heat exhaustion during a FINA 10K race.
When we immerse ourselves in the open water we put our lives in the hands of powerful, conscience-less forces, from currents and waves to sharks and toxic microorganisms. When we push ourselves to physical extremes – in distance, effort, or both – there’s no guarantee our bodies will be up to the task.
We love the open water for the freedom, the challenge, the adventure. The joy. But a darker element always lurks.
My thoughts and sorrow are with the families of the young UCSB student, and especially of Fran – as honorable and inspiring a character as our sport has ever had. It’s a terrible loss.