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Former Gators swimmer Teresa Crippen, standing behind green banner, at a recent playground build for KaBOOM!

Wednesday June 26, 2013Former Gators Swimmer Teresa Crippen Charts New Course After A Life In Pool

Former Gators swimmer Teresa Crippen, standing behind green banner, at a recent playground build for KaBOOM!

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Teresa Crippen is fully aware of what's taking place this week in Indianapolis.

She talked to former UF teammate and two-time Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel a couple of days ago about the U.S. National Championships, which also serve as the trials for the FINA World Championships set to take place in Barcelona next month.

Beisel and a contingent of current and former UF swimmers are competing in the event.

A year after narrowly missing out for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in the 200-meter butterfly, Crippen has things other than swimming on her mind for a change.

At the moment Crippen is more focused on getting a playground built at a shelter that provides care for women and children who are victims of domestic violence in Springfield, Ill.

After a life spent in the pool, the 23-year-old Crippen is enjoying the new course she has charted since finishing her Gators career last spring and then coming up short in her Olympic bid.

"I was not jealous of what they were going to do this week,'' Crippen said Wednesday. "I definitely miss the team atmosphere and I miss all the people in the swimming world, but it's nice to have a life outside of swimming."

Her life after swimming revolves around her job as a project manager for KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., which is dedicated to working with corporations and other organizations to build playgrounds in underprivileged areas around the country. Click here for more on KaBOOM! and its mission.

Once she pulled herself from the pool for the last time at last summer's U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Crippen didn't stop to look back. She didn't go near a pool for months.

Only recently has she started swimming regularly again, mixing in an occasional swim while running and doing yoga to stay fit.

Needing an internship last fall to complete her sports management/business degree at UF, former teammate and good friend Kristen Beales suggested Crippen look into KaBOOM!. Crippen applied, got the internship, and then made such an impression that she was hired full-time as a project manager.

Crippen was excited to have her first job fresh out of college, but she gets much more than a paycheck for her work.

"It's really exciting and great to see the communities that put all this work into it throughout the planning process and see it pay off,'' she said. "They threw me right out there in the field. I love it because I get to put a face to a name in an email, which I feel like is rare in a lot of jobs these days."

According to its website, KaBOOM! has built, opened or improved more than 15,000 playgrounds across the country since being founded in 1996.

Crippen now plays a vital role in making those visions into reality.

Once a group starts working with KaBOOM!, Crippen travels to the area to meet the locals and begins developing a plan that normally takes about eight weeks to complete. She manages the planning and budget and is in regular contact with the donors. She also orders the parts for the playground once she meets with the locals for what is called a "design day."

"That is the day when the local organizers and kids in the community come together and tell us their dream playground,'' said Mike Vietti, communications director for KaBOOM!

"All the playgrounds we build are completely different,'' added Crippen.

Throughout the process Crippen holds weekly conference calls with the local organizers whose job it is to round up approximately 200 volunteers needed on build day and the tools needed to make it happen.

Finally, once everything is in place, Crippen travels to the area a few days ahead of the build day for the final planning stage and to prep the area. And then, as the organization's name suggests, the playground rises on build day in a matter of hours.

"I was really interested in helping youth and fighting childhood obesity and just being out there in the field talking to the community," Crippen said of her career goals in college. "After being a swimmer for so many years, I didn't want a desk job. I really enjoy what I'm doing."

Former Gators swimmer Teresa Crippen was a three-time SEC champion.

Crippen credits a stroke of luck with her new path.

She wanted to do an internship with Nike to finish her degree but the company only offered the internship she was interested in during the summer. That wasn't possible due to her training for the Olympics.

Instead, she checked into KaBOOM! at Beales' suggestion and is thankful she did.

Crippen recently completed her first playground build as a project manager in Charlotte, N.C. The playground will serve 3,000 children and their families.

Seeing the looks on the faces of the parents and kids provided Crippen with a different kind of feeling than all those wins as a 17-time All-American at UF.

"It really hit home that the work we do, we do get a ton of payoff,'' she said. "It's helping these communities out that would otherwise not be able to give these kids playgrounds without our support and support of our funders."

She is looking forward to an upcoming project for a beach community on the Jersey shore, where Crippen and her two sisters and late brother Fran used to swim on summer trips. The community was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

She may even take a dip in the ocean for a swim to celebrate once the build is over.

But Crippen is content with her life out of the pool.

"After [Olympic] Trials I did not touch a pool, did not want to go anywhere near a pool,'' she said. "I'm finally getting to the point where I can enjoy a swim again."

And a whole lot more.


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