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.