FRAN CRIPPEN always got a thrill standing behind the starting blocks of a swim meet and hearing the words "United States" after his name was announced.

Whether it was in Italy, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Australia, Canada or wherever else he represented his country during his stellar swimming career, Fran was proud to hear his country's name behind his.

Loyalty to his country, loyalty to his schools, loyalty to his family - this was one of the traits that his sister Maddy used to describe her brother.

"If someone asked me to describe my brother in three words, they would be passionate, loyal and fun," Maddy said.

She spoke from the family home in Conshohocken after her 26-year-old brother died mysteriously during an open-water meet Saturday near Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

"He was passionate about everything he did," said Maddy, herself a former swimming champ. "He was passionate about his dream to make the Olympics."

His passion extended to his schools, Germantown Academy and the University of Virginia - and also to the Phillies.

"At Germantown Academy, he bled red, black and blue," she said. "At Virginia, he bled red, black, blue and orange.

"He loved representing his country. He was so proud to stand behind the blocks and hear the United States behind his name.

"He liked to have a good time. To know him was to love him."

Maddy said Fran was a passionate Phillies fan. When he ran the New York Marathon in 2008, he wore Phillies regalia. He also ran the marathon in 2009.

"He moved back here before the 2008 World Series," she said. "He was their good-luck charm. He wasn't here this time."

His mother, Patricia, said the last e-mail she got from Fran came after the Phillies dropped two games to the Giants.

"How come the Phillies keep losing," he wrote, "what the heck!"

Fran came from an amazingly athletic family in Conshohocken. Maddy swam for Villanova University and was a member of the U.S. Olympic swim team in 2000. His sisters Teresa, who swims for the University of Florida Gators, and Claire, an All-American at Virginia, are still competing.

Fran was a six-time U.S. National Champion and won medals in competitions all over the world. But his dream had always been to swim in the Olympics.

However, after a poor showing in the tryouts for the 2008 games, he dropped out of competitive swimming and returned to his alma mater, Germantown Academy, as a volunteer swimming coach.

But the dream shortly was reignited and he began training with his old coach at Germantown, Richard Shoulberg. He won a bronze medal in the 10K swim at the 2009 World Aquatics Championship in Rome and the bronze at the 2010 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Irvine, Calif.

He was training hard, Shoulberg said, swimming 45 miles a week and running.

Fran was born to Peter Crippen, who operated a hardware store in Conshohocken for 20 years and directs facilities for the Overbrook School for the Blind, and Patricia Crippen, an insurance agent.

Fran began competing at age 6 and won national titles at Germantown Academy before graduating in 2002. He went on to the University of Virginia from which he graduated in 2006 with a degree in sociology.

At Virginia, Fran was an 11-time All-American and two-time Atlantic Coast Conference swimmer of the year.

Maddy said her brother probably would have remained active in sports. He loved working with children, she said, and made an excellent coach.

Fran's death stunned the swimming world. The open-water event in the United Arab Emirates was held in 100-degree heat and sent three other swimmers to the hospital.

Coach Shoulberg theorized that Fran probably had pushed himself too hard.

"He would swim through pain every day in training," Shoulberg told the Inquirer. "He just wanted to be an Olympian."