A huge part of the local swimming community for more than half a century, Penrith Swimming Club is facing closure – resulting in the iconic Bridge to Bridge swimming event being placed on hold this January for the first time in 39 years.
Founded in 1961, in conjunction with the construction of the original Penrith War Memorial Pool (now operating as Ripples Penrith), Penrith Swimming Club has operated out of the Station Street site running weekly club night competitive racing plus social outings and events for the thousands of local swimmers who have been members over the years.
Penrith Swimming Club has also provided sport and recreation clinics and free learn to swim lessons, to ensure any child or adult in the community had the opportunity to be taught to swim.
The club’s largest legacy, however, is the operation of the Bridge to Bridge swimming event, which it has held every year since 1980.
The event, swum in the Nepean River from the M4 bridge to the railway bridge, was moved to the Sydney International Regatta Centre in the mid-2000s due to the growth of weeds and algae. Next year, due to the low number of members at the swimming club, the resultant lower number of volunteers available and the cost of hiring the Regatta Centre venue, the Bridge to Bridge event has been put on hold.
Nepean Swim and Fitness Owner, Alan Bentley, was a member of Penrith Swimming Club in the ‘70s and ‘80s and has participated in every Bridge to Bridge swim since its inception. Bentley said it was sad that a local tradition like the Bridge to Bridge will not continue in 2019.
“It’s disappointing that an event with a history dating back to the 1980s is not able to run next year,” he said.
“Many other swimmers have participated in excess of 30 of the 38 events to date, so it’s an annual tradition for many locals and people who travel to the area that is now being lost.”
Acting President of Penrith Swimming Club, Chris Ledbrook, said it was important the club does not fold so that they can continue to support young swimmers in the community to develop at all levels.
“In addition, the continuance of our club will mean that events like the Bridge to Bridge and the Berry Rickards Open Water Swimming Races will continue to bring competitors from around the state, and often around the country to Penrith,” he said.
Ledbrook offered up some solutions to help ease the pressure on the club and prevent it from closure, with a race against time now underway.
“The current committee will continue working with its members to advertise to the local community all that we offer,” he said.
“Should a swimming squad program return to Penrith Pools and support the introduction of swimmers to our club and the competition of swimming then we would likely return to be the successful, competitive but family-friendly and nurturing club that we were not so long ago.”
Nathan Taylor is the Western Weekender’s award-winning sports journalist. Nathan is also the Weekender’s Deputy Editor.