Steamboat Springs resident Scott Weir competes in the one-mile open water swimming race in the summer at Bald Eagle Lake. A five-part open water swimming series has been announced for July.

Shannon Lukens / Courtesy

Steamboat Springs resident Scott Weir competes in the one-mile open water swimming race in the summer at Bald Eagle Lake. A five-part open water swimming series has been announced for July.

Open season, open water for Steamboat swimmers

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— From her perch along the lanes of Old Town Hot Springs, Jill Ruppel is playing witness and pioneering Steamboat’s next big sport.

Ruppel, who is the aquatics director at the Hot Springs, has seen firsthand just how quickly the sport of swimming is growing.

According to a survey by the National Sporting Goods Association, swimming is the third most popular participation sport in the country.

But Ruppel knows that. All she has to do is look to the lanes of the pool and the master’s sessions she teaches.

“We’re almost out of space,” said Ruppel, who said it’s a regular occurrence to have 20 swimmers attend her master’s class. “We could use a ton more lane space. It’s just been great, the response we’ve had.”

Trying to push the sport even further here, Ruppel is starting something new. She recently organized an Open Water Swim Series at Bald Eagle Lake.

Starting every Monday in July, Ruppel will organize half-mile and mile swims for competitors ages 11 and older.

The series will feature prizes and the male and female swimmers with the lowest cumulative times in four of the five races will be the eventual winner.

“We ran our Triathlon Club and did a survey at the end of it,” said Ruppel, who will serve as the race director for the five swim series. “We asked what was lacking. Unequivocally, people said we need more open water swimming.”

Ruppel said she talked to Native Excavating wwner Ed MacArthur about using his lake for the series, and MacArthur said he was all about it.

Although planning still is in its infancy, registration will be open Feb. 1 at Old Town Hot Springs.

“This is huge for us,” said Amy Charity, who ran the Triathlon Club. “It’s just one more event for athletes that will draw people to Steamboat. For people looking to see how to practice for longer swims, I think this will have a draw. I think it will develop. I would imagine people outside of Steamboat will do the series.”

A growing culture

Jeff Magouirk’s instant enthusiasm for open water swimming is audible. As a board member for the Colorado Masters Swimming Association and organizer of open water swims at Chatfield State Park, Magouirk has seen the sport grow.

On opening day in 2005 at Chatfield — albeit with water temperatures in the low 50s — Magouirk had three people show up. Last year, he had 15.

“It’s really grown,” said Magouirk, who has made two successful swims of the Catalina Channel and unsuccessfully tried the English Channel. “One is because of the Internet and people can see how to swim in it. Two, swimming in the pool is not quite challenging enough. It’s more of a feeling of swimming in nature.”

The Steamboat series, Ruppel said, is designed to give people more options to swim. She said it is good for people to learn how to swim in open water.

“It’s a good opportunity for all the triathletes in town to use the series to get ready for races,” said local Sam Huff, who plans on swimming in all five this summer. “But it’s also exciting for people like me who just enjoy the swimming aspect of it.”

Although Ruppel said the series creation still was in the planning stage, she said a big part of this is introducing a new type of swimming to more people.

Where the series goes and whether it will have success moving forward remain to be seen.

But Ruppel believes she’s filling a niche in a budding population.

“The swimming community compared to the triathlon, skiing and biking community is smaller,” she said. “But I think it’s a natural progression. I think the other communities are larger and more prevalent, but we’re growing and getting bigger. I just want this series to grow, and we can build from there.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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