Christine Jennings doesn't remember swimming the last 500 meters of the World Cup open-water 10K race in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday.
What she does remember is floating on her back, disoriented, hyperventilating, vomiting, and trying to signal for help.
"Where the hell is anyone?" she recalls thinking. She began to pray. No safety boat or jet ski was within sight.
"I wanted to either be pulled out of the water or have someone near me in case I passed out," Jennings said Tuesday from home in Longmont, Colo.
She turned over, closed her eyes, and headed toward the finish line.
Her experience may help explain the conditions that family members say could have contributed to the death of Fran Crippen, 26, of Conshohocken, an experienced open-water swimmer and aspiring Olympian.
His body was found two hours after the six-mile race, about 400 yards from the finish.
Officials in the UAE listed his death as a drowning. Jennings and two other swimmers were hospitalized after the race. Crippen's funeral is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church in Conshohocken.
USA Swimming, the U.S. competitive swimming governing body, has said it will conduct its own investigation.
Pedro Adrega, head of communications for FINA, the sport's world governing body, which staged the World Cup event, wrote in an e-mail to The Inquirer that "following the investigation on this case, FINA will make public its conclusions."
According to the Associated Press, Ayman Saad, the managing director of the UAE swimming federation, said on Monday that Crippen's body was found with swimming goggles in place, suggesting he went down in "one second." He said that open-water swimmers normally remove their goggles immediately when they are fatigued or in trouble.
"It's not normal. . . . I think he pushed himself too much," Saad said.
Jennings on Tuesday said she had not heard of swimmers in trouble removing their goggles. "I was freaking out, and I never took them off," she said.
Several competitors have said that air and water temperatures during the race were high and that the race was not well organized.
Jennings, a native of Newark, Del., who swam at the University of Minnesota and has been competing in open-water events since 2007, woke up early on race day, ate breakfast at the hotel, and headed to the race tent around 8:30 a.m. to prepare for the event. She put on her suit and applied Vaseline to prevent irritation. Race officials wrote her entry number on her back, arms, and hand in indelible marker.
Jennings consumed about two liters of fluids to stay hydrated. She recalled that the air-conditioning in the tent was not very cool and that she was sweating. Crippen came by to counsel swimmers to take salt tablets to combat dehydration.
"He knew what he had to do in order not to cramp up and not get dehydrated," Jennings said. Crippen, she said, was the most experienced swimmer on the team and would often teach swimmers when and what to eat during races.
Jennings, who won a gold medal in the 10K open-water event at the 2010 MOO Pan Pacific Championships, had some concerns about how well the race was organized. At a meeting the night before, she said, race officials did not give swimmers adequate information on what to expect at feeding stations, where to go for drug testing after the race, and other details usually provided at races.
"There were no timing chips," Jennings said.
The capsule-sized chips on Velcro bands attached to swimmers' ankles or wrists are used at all levels of open-water competition. They give organizers timing information to determine when swimmers enter and leave the water.
Jennings also said that officials did not take credentials from swimmers before they entered the water, as is typical.
"There was no way to efficiently count the swimmers," she said. As the swimmers entered the water, she did not see a lifeguard, she said.
The race was the last event in the 10K series, which took place in several venues around the world. Jennings had competed in four this year. Crippen was in contention for first place and the top prize of $20,000, but he needed to finish this race to collect prize money.
The air temperature hit 95 Saturday in al-Fujayrah, one degree shy of the record for the date, said Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Weather Underground, an online weather service that reports official readings. Masters said the water temperature on the open Gulf of Oman was 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and he speculated that it would have been even higher closer to shore. A racing official had said the water temperature was 84 degrees. Medical experts say swimming in water at that temperature could make it difficult for the body to cool down by sweating.
"About 6K into the race, my head started hurting," Jennings said. She said anyone goes through this in competitions.
"At 8K it was going downhill really fast for me," Jennings said. With about 1,500 meters - roughly a mile - left in the race, Jennings began to vomit. She was sitting in sixth or seventh place at the time and had to either swim faster to stay up with the lead group or slow down.
She decided to push through.
"I started to veer off course, and I had no sense of direction," she said. Jennings began to slow down and flipped on her back looking for help.
"It just got to the point I was literally scared for my life," she said.
Jennings said she had no idea how she made it to the finish or even if she tapped a board at the end of the race that all swimmers must touch. She said she remembered a swimmer from Germany, who came in behind her, grabbing her and helping her out of the water and up to an ambulance.
After she was briefly treated in a tent with cold water and ice packs, she was taken to a hospital by ambulance.
There were no intravenous fluids on the ambulance, she said.
At the hospital, Jennings was placed in an area with Eva Fabian, a 16-year-old swimmer from Keen, N.H.
Forty minutes after leaving the water, Jennings said, she received intravenous fluids for dehydration and heat exhaustion.
In the hospital, Jennings and Fabian, whose father, John Fabian, is also a swim coach, learned Crippen was missing. Later, an ambulance carrying Crippen arrived at the hospital, and Jennings learned her teammate had died.
Jennings said local police questioned her about safety issues.
She said FINO had not spoken with her about her experience and her concerns about organizational failures, insufficient numbers of safety vessels, and ill-equipped medical staff. USA Swimming has asked her to write an account of her experiences.
"I was scared. I was extremely, extremely scared," she said. "There was no one to call to."