Sam Nemis has what he calls a recurring dream that's really a nightmare.
The 31-year-old, 6-3, 300-pound member of the 2007 Vanier Cup-winning University of Manitoba Bisons football team, who is working as a security guard at Health Sciences Centre while he finishes his economics degree, has been having the nightmare since he began cross-country skiing about five years ago.
In his sleep he's skiing along a frozen lake, with his earphones on, listening to music.
"And I'm attacked by a pack of wolves."
Last Sunday evening that nightmare became more than recurring. It took on elements of foreshadowing and a real life-and-death event that is everyone in this city's nightmare. You might have read a police brief about the incident earlier this week -- the one about the man who was stabbed and beaten by three would-be robbers while cross-country skiing on the river trail in front of The Forks.
This is the rest of the story.
-- -- --
It was around 7 p.m. Sunday, the sun was down, but The Forks was still lit up when it happened right below, next to the river-ice hockey rink where the Winnipeg Jets held an open practice during the Olympic break.
Nemis didn't hear them coming. The "wolves," as he came to call them, approached from behind and Sam had "old-school rap" cranked up and his earphones on as he skied by.
Just like in his dream.
He didn't hear them coming, but he could feel them.
"They put their arm around my neck. And jabbed something into my side."
At first he thought it was someone he knew goofing around. He didn't realize he'd just been knifed.
They pushed the former offensive lineman to the ground, which was easy given the surprise attack and that he was on skis.
He quickly noticed one of the three attackers had a camping knife in his hand. Sam's earphones were off now (one of them, at least) and he could hear what they were yelling.
"They wanted my wallet."
But Sam didn't have a wallet on him. His first instincts were to try to defuse the situation by using the non-violent crisis intervention training he had learned and practises almost daily at HSC.
"I'm trying to explain to them, 'Everything's OK, let's just calm down.' "
Sam pointed to where his Jeep was parked right above them at The Forks. His wallet was there, he told them. They could have his keys.
They didn't believe him, of course, and kept pushing him down as he tried to get up.
"I tried to stall. I tried to see what I had for resources around me. Can I see people? Can I run away? Where would I go? Is there anything around here I could defend myself with? And the answer was no."
Which is when he realized what he had to do and why.
"I realized they were going to kill me, just to go through my pockets to find nothing."
That was his greatest fear.
"That they were going to kill me for nothing, because I had nothing."
It was time to fight back.
"I said no, I'm not going to die this way. This is not how it's going to happen. I'm not going to stand for this."
It must have been quite a sight for the three wolves; this hulking former Bisons lineman coming at them now instead of backing away.
Even before he began swinging aimlessly at them he had decided his strategy. His father had coached him on what to do if he was outnumbered in a fight. It's what Sam does every time in his dream.
Go after the pack leader and bloody them all. The pack leader, in this case, had the knife.
"My goal... was to take him down and get a hold of that knife at all costs. And that's what I did. I got him on the ground."
Sam grabbed the knife by the blade.
That's when the other two used his ski to beat him and his pole to stab him in the back.
"I was fighting for my life. I honestly thought I was going to die. I thought if I was going to die, I wanted to be the one who decided my own fate, not them."
That's when Sam decided to stop fighting and take flight. While he was on top, winning.
"I don't have to get hold of that knife," he thought. "I need to start screaming for help."
He ran out onto the ice, screaming "Help, help, help. Call police. I've been stabbed."
The wolves kept coming, yelling for his cellphone now.
"And I just kept running away from them."
By that time someone had heard his cries and called police. As Sam understands it, police had arrested three suspects, one adult and two juveniles, before he even left in an ambulance for HSC.
-- -- --
I met Sam at The Forks on Wednesday morning, where he stood on the ice where it happened and described the event on video.
After, as we walked away together, Sam had some questions for me.
"I wonder if I'll have that dream again?" he asked. "Was it a warning?"
"Now, is it going to stop?"
I don't know if his nightmare is going to stop; or if what happened to Sam will make it even worse.
What I do know is Sam says he's not going to stop going to The Forks, or skiing on the frozen rivers of Winnipeg. His "happy place," as he calls it.
I know something else, too, thanks to Sam Nemis. It takes more than three wolves to take down a Manitoba Bison.
Or, as Sam said: "They didn't realize that my will to live was stronger than their will to rob me."