Paralympian Mark Arendz comes home to hero's welcome

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Paralympian medallist Mark Arendz is back on P.E.I. soil. Not for long, but he’s glad for the time he’s got.

“Everyone here has been so supportive from the very beginning, neighbours around when I was growing up, when I had the accident,” said Arendz. “Great to see everyone come out and welcome me home.”

Arendz, a double biathlon medallist (silver, bronze) at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games last month in Sochi, Russia, touched down at the Charlottetown airport Tuesday around 7:30 p.m., welcomed by a throng of supporters and well-wishers. Several made a makeshift canopy with crossed ski poles for the Hartsville native to walk under as he entered the terminal.

The 24-year-old is spending about three weeks on P.E.I. before returning to his training digs in Canmore, Alta. Last week, he spent several days helping to build a school in Nicaragua with a organization called SchoolBOX, and before that attended a host of fundraisers in Alberta.

At home, Arendz has a full schedule of appearances over the next 10 days or so, not that he minds, and if all goes well he plans to get in a few early training sessions, too.

“It’s been a pretty packed spring. I’ll spend the next week and a half sharing the medals at presentations and schools,” he said. “Potentially get a start on early training, running or at the gym.”

That dedication to training has paid off since he began in the sport almost a decade ago with his younger brother, Menno, now a national-level biathlon athlete, in the Hartsville woods.

By 2006, Mark, who had his left arm amputated above the elbow after a farm accident when he was seven, was attending international biathlon camps and was on the national biathlon radar. Four years later, Mark was in first Paralympic Games in Vancouver.

There he had two seventh-place finishes and set the groundwork to become Canada's first Paralympic biathlon silver medalist in Sochi.

“The plan was always to use Vancouver as a stepping stone to Sochi. Now I can use Sochi (as a learning tool),” said Arendz, the reigning World Cup biathlon champion and world champion in the 7.5 km sprint. “Biathlon athletes (tend to) peak in their late 20s and even early 30s.”

Arendz also has plans for the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea, hence the training focus. In Sochi, he earned silver in the 7.5-km biathlon in a time of 19:14.04 and bronze in the 12.5-km biathlon (30:24.6).

He missed the gold medal to Russian Vladislav Lekomtcev by .07 seconds (19:13.07). That’s the eye blink Arendz is aiming at for 2018.

“I’ve got find that somewhere," he said.

For Mark’s mother, Janny, the attention and demands on her son won’t alter who he is or what he’s become since those early days. She’s sure of that as much as she’s glad he’s on the Island again.

“I’m very excited he’s finally home. I don’t think he’s changed too much. He’s still Mark,” she said. “If you heard him with his brother, they’re still fighting about the same things.”

Arendz was awarded the senior male athlete of the year, Lieutenant Governor’s and Bill Halpenny awards during the Sport P.E.I. awards banquet earlier this month.

Geographic location: Sochi, Russia, Charlottetown Hartsville Canmore Vancouver Nicaragua Alberta Canada South Korea

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