Janny Arendz arrived home from back-to-school shopping to find blood in the landing and a hastily scrawled letter on the kitchen table.
“Gone to the hospital,” the note read. “Mark had an accident.”
Janny jumped in the car and drove so fast that a police car tried, and failed, to pull her over. She ran in — the police officer left without issuing a ticket — and found her seven-year-old boy clinging to life after losing his balance and falling into a grain auger.
When he came to, Janny was the one to tell her son that he lost his left arm above the elbow.
“I didn’t know how he was going to go through life with one arm,” Janny said. “Even though he was only seven, we had all these questions. What kind of profession can he do? What can he do later on in life?”
With every stride on his skis or shot from his rifle, Mark Arendz continues to answer those questions. And the truth is, he can do whatever he wants.
On Friday, the 28-year-old from Hartsville, P.E.I., captured his first of what he hopes will be many medals at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. His first bauble from these Games — and the third of his career — is a silver from the men’s biathlon 7.5-kilometre standing sprint behind France’s Benjamin Daviet.
The Canadian screamed in triumph as he crossed the finish line.
“Coming across the line I thought I had it,” he said. “I’m really happy with the day. It was an awesome race for me, but someone was just a little faster.
“I grew up on a little farm in Prince Edward Island, and here I am now as a three-time Paralympic medallist. I guess I’m proof if you dream big and set your mind to something, amazing things can happen regardless of where you are from.”
Positive attitude leads to podium
Arendz took inspiration Friday from Collin Cameron, of Sudbury, Ont., who claimed bronze in the men’s sitting biathlon event.
“I got to the venue and saw Collin’s name at the top of the standings in his final lap of the sit-ski race,” Arendz said. “I cheered him on up his final hill, and I took a lot of energy from watching him win his first ever Paralympic medal.”
A clean-shooting Arendz — who now trains at the Canmore Nordic Centre in Alberta — finished 29 seconds behind Daviet, who was also clean on the range. Ihor Reptyukh of Ukraine claimed bronze.
“I wanted to come out of this race with something around my neck – that was success for me today,” Arendz said. “I’m happy with the silver to set the bar for the rest of the Games.”
The 3-time Paralympian added to his medal collection, grabbing silver in the men’s standing 7.5km biathlon after clocking in at a time of 18:25.90 (0+0).0:42
The guy from the little farm on P.E.I. is poised to become one of the stars of these Games as he is hoping to compete in three biathlon events, two classic cross-country ski races and the cross-country relay.
He touched down in Pyeongchang with silver and bronze on his resume from the 2014 Sochi Games, but he hopes to leave South Korea with a much bigger collection.
“It’s a pretty busy schedule,” he said in what amounts to a major understatement. “‘I’m just getting my feet under me.”
Back home in P.E.I., the Arendz family cheered madly into the wee hours of Saturday morning for the boy who simply refuses to accept mediocrity in any area of his life.
“Mark’s attitude has always been so positive,” Janny said. “He never, ever questioned ‘why me?’ or anything like that.”
Adapting and persevering
Janny still feared for her son’s future until the family attended a War Amps seminar one month to the day after the accident. There, Janny met kids with various amputations of arms and legs and saw them running around, swimming, dancing and playing musical instruments.
“After that, we just went with the flow and let Mark show us what he could do and what he couldn’t do,” Janny said. “And usually, we were surprised with all the things that he could do and did.”
As a kid, Mark never gave up if he couldn’t do something he wanted to do. If the prosthetic arm didn’t work, he made modifications.
“He would try to make something with duct tape and twigs and sticks – and I don’t know what else he used,” Janny said. “He went through a lot of rolls of duct tape in those first couple of years.”
Mark Arendz is a two-time Paralympic medallist, world cup and world champion biathlon skier, but despite all of his success, he is still in search of the perfect race.1:39
That same determination and attention to detail helped him refocus after struggling with his shooting form at the 2015 world championships.
“Over the years, I developed a few bad habits in my shooting,” he said. “Over the course of a weekend, we broke everything down to the very basics like you were a beginner just learning for the first time.”
Starting over is nothing new for Arendz, who prides himself in his resiliency no matter the conditions or what transpires in any given race. Adjusting on the fly is part of sport — and part of life.
“I hope that people can learn the story and watch me progress through the years and into the future and take something from that,” he said. “Apply it to whatever dreams you may have.”
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