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Beating won't keep him down

Cabinet minister endures attack on bridge

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His right eye is still puffy and bruised, and his broken nose still swollen.

But the injuries Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Kevin Chief suffered in a random attack Sunday night are the least of his worries.

The 38-year-old Chief is more concerned about how the rest of the city will perceive the unsolved crime and what it means to his beloved North End, a community he's lived in and fought for his entire life.

"For every incident like this that happens, there are literally thousands of good stories and stories of success," Chief said Friday at his constituency office on Selkirk Avenue near Arlington Street. "I don't want what happened to me to reflect on the community. There is a vulnerability no matter who you are and where you live."

Chief said he was running along the narrow sidewalk on the west side of the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge at about 8 p.m. to train for the Manitoba Marathon. His route was to take him across to Logan Avenue, down Logan and up over the Arlington Street Bridge and back home.

Instead, he was suddenly attacked by four people, whom he thought moved to the side to let him pass. Blindsided and knocked to the ground by an elbow jolt to the ribs, he absorbed a flurry of kicks to his head and body.

"I don't personally think they targeted me," he said. "I really think it was a really random, stupid thing."

What he does remember is that as he ran towards them, his eyes were more focused on the sidewalk to make sure his footing was solid on the snow and ice. His iPod was playing Mumford & Sons, so he didn't hear anything the attackers might have said as he approached.

There was a woman in front who waved to him. The Point Douglas MLA waved back and said "thank you" as he was about to jog by.

The next second, he was on the pavement, instinctively going into a fetal position and trying to cover his head from the repeated kicks.

"As soon as I fell, I got kicked," he said, estimating the beating lasted about 30 seconds.

Then they took off. They stole nothing.

Chief said he didn't see their faces or much of anything else.

"I can't tell you if they were 15 years old or 50," he said. "I was pretty disoriented. I was kicked pretty bad."

He picked himself up and limped back home to his wife, Melanie. His face bloody from the broken nose and his jogging clothes filthy from struggling on the sidewalk, his first thought wasn't for him, but his sleeping two-year-old son, Hayden.

He insisted his wife stay at home while a friend took him to the Seven Oaks General Hospital emergency room to get checked out.

In the hours after the attack, Chief said he began to experience the roller-coaster of emotions of being a victim of crime. In a way, those feelings were worse than the pain of his injuries. Picking himself up off the sidewalk was way easier, he said.

"I had this sense of shame and embarrassment," the lifelong North Ender said, explaining he hopes that by talking about it, those feelings can be exorcised.

He said his first thought was that by getting his broken nose fixed on Monday -- the doctor had to rebreak it to straighten it -- and his two chipped teeth capped on Tuesday, he could hide the signs of the attack and put it behind him more quickly.

It didn't happen.

What helped was the support from his close colleagues in cabinet, people in his neighbourhood and from senior businessmen in the city.

And ice.

"When I played basketball, I learned the power of icing an injury and how it can reduce swelling. Instead of doing it once an hour, I did it twice an hour. Twice the power."

Perhaps what's helped most is the stuff inside Kevin Chief, the stuff that's made him a leader from his time as coordinator of the Innovative Learning Centre at the University of Winnipeg and director of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre.

He was promoted to cabinet by Premier Greg Selinger in a new portfolio tailor-made for his talent of connecting with and motivating young people.

"I have no anger toward the people that did this to me," he said. "I completely forgive them. My hope is they reach out to get the help they need and that this doesn't happen to someone else."

He reported the crime Tuesday at the police station on Hartford Avenue after he got his teeth fixed, but without a decent description, he said police need a solid tip to make an arrest.

Chief also started running again.

He's already run over the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge, completing the 30-minute route he set out on last Sunday.

"I think people expect me to get back up and run," he said. "There are high expectations for me and there are high expectations for this neighbourhood.

"The North End is about resiliency and overcoming things. I'm going to run that bridge 50 more times."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2013 A3

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