Triathlon group spon­sor­ing weekly swims at reser­voir



— As the evening sun bathed the Ne­wark Reser­voir in golden light on the sum­mer sol­stice Mon­day evening, the site was packed with the usual crowd of re­cre­ation seek­ers, in­clud­ing walk­ers, jog­gers and cy­clists.

This sum­mer, how­ever, a new group is also able to en­joy the reser­voir – swim­mers.

Though swim­ming in the 300-mil­lion-gal­lon reser­voir is typ­i­cally pro­hib­ited, Pi­ranha Sports has re­ceived per­mis­sion from the city of Ne­wark to hold weekly, one­hour swim ses­sions there. Mon­day’s swim was the fifth of 18 ses­sions sched­uled this sum­mer.

“The set­ting is ab­so­lutely amaz­ing,” Neil Sem­mel, founder of Pi­ranha Sports, said. “The wa­ter is usu­ally calm. Ev­ery­one just loves it.”

The Kirk­wood-based com­pany runs sev­eral lo­cal triathlons, in­clud­ing the Top of Delaware Triathlon, which will be held at the Ne­wark Reser­voir for the fourth year in Au­gust. Sem­mel said the weekly swims are a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of the an­nual race and give triath­letes a chance to prac­tice in open wa­ter rather than a pool.

“Open-wa­ter ex­pe­ri­ence is dif­fer­ent,” he said. “If you’re con­sid­er­ing an event that re­quires open-wa­ter swim­ming, this makes sense to get you a lit­tle more com­fort­able.”

Par­tic­i­pates pay $12 – or $135 for a sea­son pass – and Pi­ranha Sports pro­vides life­guards and ac­cess to a swim dock it erected in the reser­voir. Swim­mers have up to an hour to swim mul­ti­ple laps along a quar­ter-mile, tri­an­gu­lar course.

Tom Cole­man, di­rec­tor of pub­lic works and wa­ter re­sources for the city of Ne­wark, said the city first be­gan dis­cussing ways to hold more events at the reser­voir last sum­mer. Af­ter a triath­lete team ap­proached the city this spring, the dis­cus­sion was rekin­dled, and Cole­man con­tacted Sem­mel.

“He’s proven he can do it safely and has all the equip­ment,” Cole­man said.

Pi­ranha han­dles all the lo­gis­tics and man­age­ment of swims and does not pay a fee to the city, Cole­man said.

“It’s a nice event to draw


at­ten­tion to the city,” he said.

He added there are no health con­cerns about peo­ple swim­ming in a reser­voir used for drink­ing wa­ter.

“It’s raw wa­ter, the same wa­ter as in the creek, and peo­ple can swim in the creek,” he said, not­ing that the wa­ter is pro­cessed at a treat­ment plant be­fore flow­ing to homes and busi­nesses.

Cole­man em­pha­sized that, out­side the events spon­sored by Pi­ranha, swim­ming at the reser­voir re­mains il­le­gal, and vi­o­la­tors will be cited by po­lice.

Swim­mer Jeff Roberts, of Ne­wark, is train­ing for a triathlon and said Mon­day he is glad to have a nearby place to prac­tice.

“The com­mon theme in this area is, ‘Where do you prac­tice open-wa­ter swim­ming?’” Roberts said. “This is a chance to come out and see if I like it.”

He noted that he is a fre­quent vis­i­tor to the reser­voir.

“I’ve al­ways run around here,” he said. “I al­ways won­dered what it would be like to swim in there.”

Ryan Con­ner de­cided to try out the reser­voir swim af­ter com­plet­ing his first triathlon ear­lier this month in Cape May, N.J.

“I re­al­ized I need some prac­tice,” the Middletown res­i­dent said. “It re­quires more than just swim­ming in a pool. I need some open­wa­ter train­ing.”

Le­lané Ros­souw-Ban­croft, an open-wa­ter swim­mer from Ne­wark who spe­cial­izes in “ice swims” in wa­ter un­der 42 de­grees, has been par­tic­i­pat­ing in the weekly swims since they be­gan May 23.

“It totally beats pool swim­ming,” she said. “The view is much more beautiful.”

Cheri Boyer, of Smyrna, said the events re­mind her of care­free days of swim­ming as a child, when she learned to swim at a lake in New Jersey.

“It brings back mem­o­ries of be­ing a kid and swim­ming how you want,” she said, not­ing the reser­voir is cleaner than many lakes and the ocean. “It feels fan­tas­tic, like you’re on va­ca­tion in the Caribbean some­where.”

Friends Barb Strab and Lisa Ris­ner are train­ing to do a triathlon to­gether this fall and prac­ticed at the reser­voir for the first time on Mon­day.

“It’s a lit­tle harder than the pool, and just dif­fer­ent. You have to get your bear­ings,” Ris­ner said. “We’ll do it again.”


Brad Bal­lard, of Middletown, ex­its the Ne­wark Reser­voir af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in an open-wa­ter swim­ming ses­sion Mon­day evening.

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