Canada's Mark Arendz aims to be 'one of the best' Paralympians
Para nordic skier wants to master biathlon before conquering cross-country
For Mark Arendz, keeping things simple has allowed him to become one of Canada's premier para nordic skiers.
The 28-year-old from Hartsville, P.E.I., enters the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, looking to add to the biathlon silver and bronze he won at the Sochi Games. But it was a disappointing performance at the 2015 world championships that forced Arendz to refocus on the fundamentals.
"I took a different approach to my shooting, a different training, and it's back to where it is, if not better than it has been," Arendz says."There were a lot of habits — bad habits, unfortunately — that were becoming the standard and I pretty much just broke my shooting down to the very basics level again and built it up."
The work clearly paid off at the 2017 worlds, where Arendz dominated with five medals — two biathlon golds and one silver to go along with a pair of bronze medals in cross-country — to cap off a strong season of competition.
"It just confirms what we've been doing over the last two years," he says. "The training is going well, the fitness is there, the technique is always coming but it's always changing us at the same time."
Contending in any event
With a solid foundation re-established, Arendz's sights are now firmly set on his next challenge: winning Canada's first Paralympic gold in biathlon. Like many para nordic athletes, he competes in both biathlon and cross-country events, but his priority for Pyeongchang is clear.
"My focus will always be on the biathlon races, but in the last few years I've gained the technique, the ability and the confidence most importantly in the cross-country — especially in the classic side — to be competitive," he says.
While his participation in cross-country events will be a Games-time decision for Arendz, he's been honing his skills with the aim of dual dominance down the road.
"I want to be one of the best and I've been working towards that since I started this sport really," Arendz says."That's a goal between now and before I call it a career, that I want to be able to be a contender no matter what the race, whether it's a biathlon or a cross-country, classic or skate."
Arendz's cross-country prowess helped Canada to a historic open relay bronze at the 2017 worlds, partnering with Emily Young, Brian McKeever and his guide Graham Nishikawa to achieve the feat. McKeever, whose 13 Paralympic medals include a biathlon bronze, is impressed by how far athletes like Arendz have progressed.
"We've never had a competitive relay team before and then to have these guys show up and be absolutely firing on all cylinders ... it's good to have the young guys coming up and stepping up and showing those kinds of performances," he says.
"We might've had a shot to get a silver if Graham and I had actually had a better day," McKeever laughs.
Finding solace in sport
Arendz opened up last year in a first-person essay for CBC Sports about what sport has meant to him following a childhood farming accident where he lost part of his left arm.
"Sport gave me an outlet over the years," Arendz says. "Biathlon and cross country gave me that opportunity to show my ability instead of my disability."
"I believe a disability is what you make of it and your attitude towards that is how you'll be judged I think."
Pyeongchang will be Arendz's third Games, and he acknowledges how much he's changed as a competitor and a teammate since 2010.
"Going home from Vancouver it was like 'OK, now I see the level that people are at once it gets to the Games,'" Arendz says. "I learned from the successes and mistakes along the way between Vancouver and Sochi and now the extra four years going into Pyeongchang, you're always learning, that's the beauty of sport."
"I'm working on my weaknesses in order to be the strongest athlete I can be. But sport has given me that opportunity throughout the world to show how able I am."