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Winter swimmer braves cold but keeps spurring 911 calls

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Updated: April 28, 2013 6:39AM

When police and firefighters bracing for a cold water rescue arrive at Montrose Beach amid sirens and lights, they’ve increasingly come to realize it’s just Boban Simic out for a swim.

Simic, 30, a burly bouncer, boxer and mixed martial arts fighter, wades through ice and slush on a weekly basis, seeking the open waters of Lake Michigan and the euphoric feeling and health benefits he believes they offer.

“Every cell in your body is alive,” said Simic. “You come out and you feel like a baby, like born again...the whole day after you do something like this, you feel happier you can deal with pressure, you can deal with a lot of things a lot easier.”

Some cops don’t share the good vibes.

“One of the cops told me, the one that was kind of mean to me, he told me that next time he catches me, I’m going straight to jail.”

On Tuesday, a police spokesman simply said: “He has been advised by officers that swimming in the lake at this time of year is dangerous.”

Firefighters, Simic said, are more tolerant.

“Our guys understand what he’s doing and it’s not a problem,” said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford. “It’s just a matter of notification. He should let us know when he’s out there and when he gets out of the water...because if someone calls, and we don’t know, we gotta go.”

A call of a person in the water triggers a full land, water, and air response from the fire department, and regularly draws a police boat and squad cars, said Langford.

Since Simic began his icy swims this winter, he’s come into contact with authorities at least six times. The most recent, last Tuesday, was defused, according to Simic, after a firefighter yelled “Oh, that’s Boban. Hey Boban!”

“I’ve had helicopters come, I had fire trucks come, and fire boats come, and I’m like, ‘why do people call?’ you know, they could just ask me, ‘Hey, are you OK?’”

Simic originally swam off Oak Street beach, but after several run in with authorities, was asked to move to less conspicuous waters. He chose Montrose Beach, but the 911 calls kept coming. Simic says he tries to remember to call 311 to alert fire and police officials that he is swimming, but does not always remember.

Police have issued him five tickets for swimming at an unauthorized location, Simic said.

“I paid the first three tickets in court and then I was like, ‘Why am I paying this? I’m not in the wrong’ so I contested my last two tickets, the judge threw (them) out,” said Simic, who lives in Lake View, and is in between bouncing jobs. He most recently kept the peace at a far South Side strip club.

“I don’t care, if I have to pay for tickets for freedom, I’ll pay, this is what I love to do, you know, I’m not going to stop, I’m not in the wrong. It’s suppose to be a free country, you know, it’s supposed to be a free lake.”

Because Simic doesn’t wear a wetsuit and swims alone he’s more likely to prompt 911 calls than organized winter swim groups.

Simic wears a watch in the water to keep his swims within reason.

His longest swim in near-freezing water is 24 minutes. On Saturday he swam for 22 minutes in near freezing water on a 35 degree day.

“As long as he does it for a very short period of time, he should be OK,” said Northwestern Memorial Hospital emergency room physician Dr. David Zich. “You start really getting into trouble after 30 minutes.”

Cold water cools the body 25 times faster than cold air does, he said.

Simic approaches the lake with the same fearlessness he does an opponent.

“I’m a brawler, I like to punch... . But most people they don’t want to strike with me, they choose to take me down, because I got heavy hands and people are starting to know I got a real strong jaw, I can take a lot of hits.”

And though he’s putting all his energy into fighting, Simic knows pugilism is a fleeting profession.

“Maybe I’ll write a book, a book of poems and art. I draw and I write poetry.”

Or maybe he’ll become a thespian.

“People are always looking at me and stuff, I see that I stick out in people’s heads, so maybe I’ll use that in’s something about the way I look. Little kids, they always look at me and point, like I’m some kind of super hero or something.”

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