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Recently assaulted Chief joins with youth for inspirational marathon trek

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Kevin Chief jokes he's had one of the toughest training schedules gearing up for the Manitoba Marathon.

But it's one the children and youth opportunities minister says made him stronger and taught him much about the North End community he lives in and represents -- and the city as a whole.

On the evening of Feb. 24, Chief was running across the Slaw Rebchuk Bridge to Logan Avenue when he was attacked by four people, whom he thought moved to the side to let him pass. He was repeatedly kicked in the head and upper body, the kicks chipping two of his teeth and breaking his nose.

"There's been a lot of amazing response from it," Chief said Monday, saying he's got hundreds of emails, text messages, cards from schoolchildren, flowers and phone calls--including one from True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman -- wishing him a speedy recovery.

"Two things have always happened and have happened literally thousands of times because I'm out in the public so much. The first thing is that someone comes up and says, 'I'm very sorry what happened. I'm really concerned what happened. I'm glad you're OK.' The second thing that immediately happens is they tell me an incident of violence that happened to them or to a loved one. And what it has taught me is that we're more connected through our vulnerabilities than we ever will be through our personal strengths."

Most inspirational for Chief are the faces and feet of some of the young people from the North End. A dozen of them have signed up to train with Chief and run in the June 16 marathon, a decision they say was made to show the rest of the city the neighbourhood is not just about crime.

"We're all going to be wearing 'I love the North End' T-shirts," Chief said, as he and his young running partners warmed up for a quick noon-hour jog through St. John's Park.

Wendy Hallgrimson, program coordinator at the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre and a recipient of the 2013 Premier's Volunteer Service Award, got the ball rolling, enticing people like 16-year-old Tom Raven to run.

"I grew up in the North End just like Kevin and Tommy," she said. "This is where my home is, and when we heard about what happened to Kevin, that was a shock. We both talked about that a lot. We thought it would be cool to be running with him and support him.

"None of us have even run in a marathon so it's just being able to accomplish something we've never thought we'd be able to do."

The still-unsolved attack of Chief also triggered a revamped fun-run and barbeque called Run With the Chiefs co-ordinated by a Point Douglas seniors' group and the Aboriginal Sport and Achievement Centre two days before the Manitoba Marathon. Chief and Winnipeg police Chief Devon Clunis will run with participants.

"Everyone gets to come out and celebrate the neighbourhood and show North End pride," Chief said.

Runner Frank Halas, 23, said he and the other participants, most of whom have never done any long-distance running, will be "kitted out" with new shoes this week. Most of the runners are students at St. John's High School.

"The kids we're running with, they're already so close as a unit," Halas said.

In the hours and days after Chief was assaulted, he went to police to file a report and got his broken nose and teeth fixed. He also tried the bury the embarrassment he felt about being a victim of crime. That was a mistake, he now admits.

"That's one of the biggest lessons that I've gotten out it," he said. "The support that people give, I found that not only has it helped my healing physically and mentally, but I can tell when people can share their stories, how much it helps them as well.

"I actually share the story now. I know people are interested in it. From time to time, when people want to talk, I'm interested in hearing the kinds of things that they want to share. I think when people want to come and share their story, I always have to be 100 per cent willing to listen because people were willing to listen to me."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 4, 2013 B1

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Updated on Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 6:44 AM CDT: adds video, replaces photo

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