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Mow power to Lake Michigan swimmer Kevin James

KevJames makes his swim toward Navy Pier from Hammond Ind. 141/2 miles completed Aug. 22 9 hours 15 minutes Lake

Kevin James makes his swim toward Navy Pier from Hammond, Ind., 141/2 miles completed Aug. 22 in 9 hours, 15 minutes on Lake Michigan. | For the Sun-Times

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Updated: October 3, 2012 6:17AM

As Kevin James’ swim neared Navy Pier, a crew member on a sailboat asked Capt. John Angyus if it was legal to troll with humans.

Somebody swimming from Hammond, Ind., to Navy Pier isn’t something you see every day. But James did it. I don’t know if it’s a first. Some have swum across Lake Michigan at various points.

The swim began with buddies sitting around talking. One thing led to another. Soon a bet was made with Eric Mitcheltree and Tim Polito. If James swam to Navy Pier, they would mow his lawn for a year. If he quit, touched bottom or grabbed the boat, he would mow their lawns for a year.

I admire both sides of this nonsense. James, 32, from Hammond, sounds normal. He works as a stagehand at Star Plaza Theater. He’s about 6-feet, 220 pounds, but he said, ‘‘I am no Olympic athlete.’’

He swam competitively when he was young but stopped in third grade. He swam some at Highland High School in Indiana but ‘‘nothing out of the ordinary.’’ And he did a triathlon a few years ago.

Nor did he have much time to train this summer because he’s trying to go to graduate school for physical therapy. But he was prepared for the trip.

He kept an eye on weather forecasts and picked Aug. 22. The light south breezes to start were perfect. They left from Hammond Marina about 8:30 a.m. In the boat to verify were James’ girlfriend, Sabrina Tamez; Tom Slamkowski and Mitcheltree. They would throw James Gatorade or protein shakes in a water bottle on a rope.

‘‘He never flipped over and backstroked,’’ Angyus said. ‘‘If I was going to do it, I would have flipped. Even when he was taking a break to take a protein shake or drink Gatorade, he didn’t stop. He kept moving.’’

Angyus had a life jacket on a safety rope behind as a precaution.

‘‘The day started fine; the first five or six hours were pretty calm,’’ said Angyus, who knows James since middle school. ‘‘Then the winds starting building from the southeast, and it was 2-3 footers by 35th Street, wherever Comiskey is at.’’

The wind moved east, and Angyus had a hard time handling a 17-foot Hewescraft fish-and-ski with three others on it. James’ speed dropped, but he persevered.

‘‘By the breakwalls, reverberating back and forth, it was pretty hectic up in there,’’ James said. ‘‘When I caught sight of the Ferris Wheel, it was all over. Nothing was stopping me.’’

Well, technically, Angyus made a safety call because of heavy traffic.

‘‘I actually had him get in the boat near the locks,’’ Angyus said. ‘‘It got to the point where we were playing chicken with sailboats.’’

Mitcheltree said the bet was fulfilled. By Angyus’ reckoning, it was 141/2 miles. Time in the water was 9 hours, 15 minutes. Angyus said James started at a steady 2 mph for the first five hours or so, then had to slow in the chop.

‘‘It is not something a normal, sane person would do,’’ said James, who took the South Shore home with Tamez.

There are side benefits. He has a year’s worth of mowing coming on his corner lot of a quarter acre. And a girlfriend, who said, ‘‘I am proud to be with somebody like that. It’s rare to find somebody with that much drive and passion. It is a breath of fresh air.’’

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