How 2 P.E.I. athletes are getting ready for Beijing Paralympics
Summerside's Billy Bridges and Mark Arendz of Hartsville, P.E.I., heading to Beijing with different hopes
Islanders have a couple of reasons to cheer during the 2022 Beijing Paralympic Winter Games this year.
Summerside-born Billy Bridges has been at a training camp in Calgary preparing to wear the Maple Leaf for the national sledge hockey team at the Games for a sixth time.
And Paralympic nordic skier Mark Arendz is in Lake Louise, Alta., ready to head to Beijing Friday for his fourth Games.
Bridges, who's 37, said expectations get "greater and greater" with each passing Games — but that he can still rocket an 80-mile-per-hour slapshot.
"To be a part of this team today compared to, you know, before Salt Lake City is night and day," Bridges said.
"We have anywhere from 15 to 20 training sessions a week and a lot of obligations. But at the same time, it makes you such a better hockey player and I'm still getting faster and stronger at the old age that I'm at."
Bridges said he never could have imagined how far he'd get when he first joined the men's national program as a teenager in the late 1990s.
Besides multiple world championships under his belt, he's earned three Paralympic medals as part of Team Canada. He got the gold in the 2006 Torino Games, the last time the Canadian team won the tournament.
"I wish I could go back and tell 14-year-old Billy that I could be doing this full time and travel the entire world and get to go to all these Paralympic Games and compete with all these amazing teammates I have. I never would have believed it," he said.
Seeking second gold medal
He said he hopes the Games can inspire children with disabilities to participate in sports, and maybe become the next generation of Paralympic hockey athletes.
"That's what I think is so important about the Paralympics and the Paralympic movement is that it's more than just cheering for your nation to win medals. It's also opening up eyes to, you know, what is actually possible out there and be able to change the lives of people who see it for the first time," he said.
Bridges will be joined by Islanders Tyler Jay and Grant Boswell, who have support roles in the team. The men's team will play the U.S. on March 5 at 1 p.m. Beijing time.
Arendz said watching the Olympics helps him know what lies ahead for the Paralympics.
"What I've seen during the Olympics, at the venues, I'm really excited to see the course and dealing with the conditions there," Arendz said.
"We kind of joke it's our pre-event. It's the test event to get all the wrinkles ironed out, and then we get to go in for the Paralympics."
While the COVID-19 health and safety measures do worry him a bit, he puts a lot of trust into the safety protocols.
"Every time you take a test, you're still taking an extra little breath of, 'OK, is this going to be negative?'" he said.
"But I think it's just about trusting what we've done, the process that we've gone through in order to keep ourselves safe."
Similar to the Olympics, all the snow used during the Paralympics will be artificial.
Arendz said he's already familiar with artificial snow used in the Olympic training centre in Canmore, Alta, but there are still things his team needs to figure out once they arrive.
"We don't quite know how the weather affects the snow," he said.
"And then understand how the day shifts in terms of when the highs are, when the lows are, and then how does the snow react to the sun and things like that."
'Evolving to the next level'
The eight-time medallist has become one of Canada's most decorated Paralympic winter athletes.
Back in 2018, Arendz set a record for winning the most medals by a winter Paralympian in one Games, with one gold, two silver and three bronze in South Korea.
This year, his goal is not about repeating that success, but learning from the mistakes he's made in the previous Games.
"I was still successful in those races, but there were mistakes that I want to iron out, that I don't want to repeat. And I feel that I'm in a better physical shape. The mental control is a lot better," Arendz said.
"It's just correcting all those little things and evolving to the next level."
Arendz will turn 32 on March 4, one day before the opening ceremony March 5.
His way of celebrating the birthday will be to focus on things he can control like his tactics and his shooting, Arendz said.
"My goals are to come to the start line as best prepared as I can be, knowing that I've done everything to that point to be ready."
The Games run from March 4 to 13.
With files from Island Morning and CBC News: Compass