Greatness abounds as Canadians smash country's Paralympic medal record

The Canadian Paralympic Committee's slogan coming into Pyeongchang was "Greatness is Rare" - but for 10 days in South Korea, Canada's 55 athletes, the largest winter delegation ever, proved greatness was abundant.

Athletes captured 28 medals in Pyeongchang, eclipsing previous mark of 19

Clockwise from top left, Mollie Jepsen, guide Graham Nishikawa and Brian McKeever, Greg Westlake and Mark Arendz all helped Canada bring home the most Paralympic medals from a single Games with their performances in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (The Associated Press/Getty Images)

The goal set out by the Canadian Paralympic Committee coming into Pyeongchang, South Korea, was capturing 16 medals based on their calculations of how athletes should perform.

Their slogan coming into all of this was "Greatness is Rare".

For 10 days in South Korea, Canada's 55 athletes, the largest winter delegation ever, proved greatness was abundant.

Team Canada captured 28 medals, second-most at the Games, smashing the country's previous record of 19 at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver.

There were moments of elation and moments of devastation. There were surprise performances and expected dominant performances.

There was the historic display by Prince Edward Island's Mark Arendz, who won a medal in every event he competed in. His gold, two silver and three bronze made him the first Canadian to win six medals at a single Winter Games.

'See what is possible'

For his effort, Arendz led Canada into the closing ceremony, waving the flag proudly and grinning ear-to-ear. But for as much as this was about getting the medals for himself and his country, Arendz wanted it to be more than that.

"I want anyone in Canada to look at what we did here and see what is possible," he said. "I hope I can be an inspiration for others to realize you can achieve anything."

There was standout performance by 18-year-old Mollie Jepsen from West Vancouver. In her first Games, Jepsen skied her way to four medals for Canada. She was also responsible for claiming the country's first medal of the Paralympics.

"I'm really proud to represent Canada," she said. "To have been able to get the first medal is amazing."

Opening ceremony flag-bearer, Brian McKeever, became the most decorated Paralympic cross-country skier ever by winning three gold and a bronze. He now has 13 gold medals and 17 total in his career.

The 38-year-old from Canmore, Alta., raced to a rare "triple treble" — sweeping all three individual men's cross-country events for the third consecutive Winter Paralympics. 

"It's always an honour to represent Canada, and to do that at the Paralympics is why I have kept going with my career," McKeever said.

Canada's Para Nordic team skied to 16 medals at the Paralympics. 

Heartbreak in hockey but a silver lining

There was heartbreak too for Canada. 

The para ice hockey team appeared to have gold in their hands when victory was ripped away.

With less than a minute left in the game and the U.S. net empty, Canada's Rob Armstrong hit the post. It would have given Canada a 2-0 lead and sealed the win. Instead, the Americans picked up the puck, stormed down the ice and scored with 37 seconds left.

Declan Farmer, who scored the tying goal, would also score the golden goal for the Americans in overtime. It sent the United States into a frenzied celebration and the Canadians into stunned disappointment. 

But after the game veteran Billy Bridges, who was competing in his fifth Paralympics, wanted to talk about how bright the future is for the program.

"There is so more that went on here. We showcased the sport. It's unbelievable what these guys can do," he said. 

It's a perspective Bridges admits he wouldn't be able to have had all those years ago when he first started playing. But all these years later he can appreciate what this team did together and wants it to motivate Canadians.

"I really hope we can take what we did here today and know we've inspired people to get into the game. We just tried to do the best we could."

The Comeback Kids inspire

Then there was the Canadian wheelchair curlers, who earned the nickname "The Comeback Kids" after their impressive ability to stage remarkable rallies to win games at the Paralympics.

They never quit when falling behind and found ways to victory, mostly by stealing points from their opposition. 

Even after Marie Wright, Dennis Thiessen, Ina Forrest and Mark Ideson lost the semifinal game to China and had their gold medal dreams dashed, they remained positive. They rallied together, came back and won the bronze a day later against Korea.

"We picked each other up. I'm so proud of us all," Ideson said.

Triumph over seemingly impossible odds

Many will never forget the inspirational story of Marie Wright from Moose Jaw, Sask. The 57-year-old made her first Paralympic appearance against seemingly impossible odds.

It was a long an difficult journey getting to this point.

In August 1988, Wright was in a horrific accident on a rural road in Saskatchewan. It left her a paraplegic. Her two youngest daughters as well as her niece and nephew were also in the vehicle. Her youngest daughter was just one at the time and suffered a serious head injury.

To make matters worse, two years after the accident Wright's husband left her — as the single mother of four daughters was adjusting to life in a wheelchair.

But she never gave up and is now a Paralympic medallist. Her two oldest daughters, Kyla and Tara, were in the crowd cheering her on throughout the competition.

She was thinking about all four of her daughters after she won bronze.

"I'm so proud of them. They're my heroes. They make my life worthwhile. I'm so glad they could be here to share this all with me."

Wright calls these Games and her bronze medal moment one of the best times of her life.

"I've never been on a podium before," she said, smiling. "Until now."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.