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February 20, 2019

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Hamline News

‘Always Fight Back’

always fight back-big

By Shannon Prather

The attacker struck from behind in broad daylight in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. Wearing a business suit to hide in plain view, he lurked in the elevator lobby of a parking garage until a woman who looked like easy prey came into view.

He’d done this before, each time changing his disguise to blend in with his surroundings. Once he dressed up as a doctor. Another time he went camouflaged as a college student.

Despite all his experience, however, this time he picked the wrong woman.

Angela Champagne-From ’13 was on her way from the law firm where she worked to Hamline to take a final exam on that afternoon in April 2012. As she approached her car in the parking garage, she felt a cold object pressed to her throat. “We’re going for a ride,” a stranger hissed in her ear.

Instinctively, Angela grabbed the hunting knife at her throat, slicing her thumb.

It had been nearly a decade since her self-defense course at Spring Lake Park High School, but the fight inside her surged up. Angela struck back. She stomped his foot. She hit. She clawed at his eyes and crotch. She bit. With no time to dig for the pepper spray in her purse, her only weapons were her hands, her feet, her mouth, and her wits. 

The attacker stabbed Angela in the abdomen. It cut deep. Still, she fought for her life.

“You’re lucky you’re a fighter,” the attacker said before finally walking away.

Bleeding profusely from the 10-inch gash in her stomach, Angela stumbled down four flights of stairs in search of help. Then everything went dark.

The Fight Back Project

Despite surviving the loss of nearly half her blood that day, Angela’s fight was far from over.

She recalls looking her attacker, Robert John Meyers, square in the eyes as she testified during his trial. She listened to Meyers’ unrepentant speech, where he compared all women to dogs. Then she watched as a judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison.

Two years later, Angela started a nonprofit organization called The Fight Back Project, where she teaches women self-defense moves and a “fight back” mindset.

“I just feel like I had a story that could protect and save lives,” she said. “There are so many victims that are not strong enough to speak out. I feel strongly about sharing my story and showing you can stand up, fight back, and survive. I think of it as my advocacy work.”

Angela has spoken to dozens of groups, ranging from prosecuting attorneys to high school girls. She also returned to her high school and college alma maters to speak and teach self-defense seminars.

Her offerings range from 90-minute sessions to intense eight-hour self-defense courses, where mock assailants in padded suits test participants.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office prosecuted Meyers, lauded Angela’s advocacy. “We are impressed with her courage and are so glad she’s doing this,” Freeman said.

Strength of mind

On an evening in late summer, Angela stands before a group of soon-to-be-first-year-college-students and their mothers at the Edina Country Club. She shares the shocking, graphic details of her story, including photos of herself after the attack.

The room is still as she relives those terrifying moments and replays the agonizing 911 call where the dispatcher can’t figure out Angela’s location in the parking ramp. She also shares the triumph of her recovery, graduation, and wedding.

“You have to outfight the bad guy. You need to prepare. You need to think about it,” Angela says, demonstrating self-defense moves. “Always fight back.”

She teaches the women to use their strengths—their voices, their legs, and their sheer determination.

“Mindset is the most important tool you can have in your toolbox,” she says. It’s a tool that helped Angela not only survive the attack but make something positive come from it through her advocacy work.

Despite a long recovery, Angela graduated from Hamline on time with degrees in legal studies and
women’s studies. Now she works as a paralegal at SiebenCarey, representing accident victims.