Swimming in the Schuylkill? This man has tried it

Photo: Rod Watkins

Notorious for its murky waters and rough currents, the Schuylkill River is rarely seen as a prime spot for a spring or summer swim. 

63-year-old Rod Watkins defied that trend on Saturday, May 18, when he swam downtown in the Schuylkill with three recent University of Pennsylvania graduates. 

Watkins, who started swimming while living in Sydney, Australia, has sought challenging swims around the world for over ten years. His dip in the Schuylkill, however, was a spontaneous one.

"The plan was hatched the night before over a couple of beers," he said. "I said, ‘It can’t be any worse than the Harlem River after rain, which I've swum in,’ so we stupidly agreed to do it."

The group swam about 500 meters downstream, and Watkins briefly submerged his face while wearing a pair of goggles. They climbed out at the boat sheds along the river, prompting a few "strange looks" from boaters preparing for the Stotesbury Cup Regatta that evening. 

Watkins said the decent experience was made much more memorable by the reactions of locals.

"I mean it's just one to put down and when you mention it to people who know Philadelphia, they think you're insane," he said. "The feedback on Facebook was extremely amusing."

A member of Australia’s Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, Watkins is no stranger to questionable waters. While he said it would be great if the city cleaned the river, he had no trouble recovering and said he looks forward to more swims in the United States. 

"No one’s growing any extra legs," he said. "No one’s got an ear infection. We all survived to tell the tale."