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A Golden Day

📷 Friday morning I woke up, jumping out of bed. I was ready to go! Knowing that today was the day I could win. I believed I could win today. Never was there a moment that I thought anything other than that. I don’t recall much before the fourth bout of shooting. The only thing I can remember was that Reptyukh had passed me on course but then had some trouble on the range. I knew he was behind me again and I believe one of the coaches had informed me that he was out of the picture with a couple of misses. With each miss being a minute penalty. But this race wasn’t over by any means. Two of the best Biathletes were skiing behind me, and I had no clue where they were. I got a bit of an answer from the coaches on the fourth lap just before the fourth bout of shooting. I, again don’t recall exactly what Robin (my coach) said to me but Cole’s notes version was to race my race. I think he even said to take my time in the range but maybe not. I don’t remember. What I summarized from what Robin said was he was trying to say “don’t miss” without actually saying those words. Strangely, I took a lot of confidence from that.

As I approached the range, I knew winning was a very real possibility but I first had to take control of this shooting. The set up was the same as every other bout in this race. Hit the first target. Usually, at this point, I would take a single breathe and then squeeze the trigger for the second shot. Not in this bout, I took a second breathe to ensure I was in control. Hit the second. Two breaths got the third target. Same again for the fourth. I could sense that the thought of the moment I was in, was beginning to form. I cut that thought short. Instead, I thought ‘two breaths, then hit this last target.’ And I did! I jumped up; I was on my way out of there. I still had 3km to ski but the Individual is about the shooting, and I had just done everything I could in the range. I was about halfway through the final lap when the coaches could tell me how it all had gone on the range. That, after the fourth shooting I was leading by over a minute. I was skiing to my first Paralympic Gold medal! To cross that finish line knowing that I had achieved a dream that has taken the best part of eight years to achieve. As the results came in to add to such a spectacular moment, I saw that I would be sharing this special moment with two friends on the podium. Daviet, of France, had earned the silver and one of my greatest rivals and closet friends on the World Cup circuit, Ulset, of Norway, had earned the Bronze. The three of us have shared countless podiums. I could not have asked for a better podium to share my first Paralympic title.

From that first medal ceremony almost a week earlier, I dreamt of hearing those extraordinary words, “winner and Paralympic Champion, representing Canada – Mark Arendz.” After that to watch the Canadian flag rise the highest and hear O Canada playing. That was what happened that night! A great Games had turned magical. And I wasn’t done yet!

Winning the Biathlon Individual will always be one of my greatest memories. Though, like every race before it in PyeongChang, once I returned to my room that evening I put the medal away and turned my focus to what I needed to do for the next day. It so happened to be the race I had been most looking forward to, the 10km Classic. I believed I could be a medal contender in this race. I was out to prove it. I started out well and was building upon a solid start. Because I don’t race a lot of Cross Country races, my points were not as good as my fellow competitors. I would be the first of five skiers I believed could win that day. I was setting the pace and had little information about where I stood. When the skier starting 30 seconds behind me caught, I became a little nervous. I realized I had to shake my head a little and get into this race. From then it was a back and forth between the two of us. As the race progressed, it seemed that we were fighting for the podium. I ran a well-executed race I believe. I struggled a bit climbing but was skiing extremely well on the flatter sections and descents. Technically I skied a very good race, perhaps one of my better ones. I crossed the finish line in second place. There remained three skiers to complete their races, three very strong skiers. The next skier to finish was my good friend Nitta, of Japan. He would set the new fastest time; I was now third. I was satisfied with the race; I had done what I could regardless of what the result might end up being. Now I had to wait. Soon enough Ilkka and Reptyukh had finished. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I had held onto third. I had just earned my second Cross Country medal at the Games. To be on the podium with Nitta (who I regard as one of the greatest one-armed classic skiers) and Vovchynskyi was again, a blast. Funny enough, with Nitta on the podium there was a significant increase in the number of photographers at the podium ceremonies. The same was true for the Cross Country Sprint from earlier. Working together with Vovchynskyi saved my race helped me earn that medal. He said the same about me. All the top guys have a special respect for each other.

Receiving my fifth medal of these Games was only the start of the festivities of that evening. There was to be a very special announcement later that evening at Canada House. That announcement came along with a special flag that I received from my teammate, and friend Brian McKeever. That announcement was that I would be the Canadian Flag-Bearer for the Closing Ceremonies. At this point, I’ve run out of words and emotions to describe these Games. There was still more to come.

📷 It was hard to believe how quickly the Games had flown by but it was the final day and with that came Relay day! There are two different Relays at the Paralympics a Mixed and an Open Relay. I would be racing the anchor leg of the Mixed Relay. Starting the team off, we had Natalie on the opening Classic leg. Emily was next for the first Skate leg. Several teams had started hard and fast, the girls held their own, and we were in the seventh position. We now got to show the depth of the Canadian team; as the second Classic leg was my roommate Chris. He put in a huge effort. Chris finished his leg by tagging me in fourth place. I was right behind two skiers from Japan and Germany. The first half of my leg I was in auto-pilot, I didn’t think about anything just skied to catch up. First the Japanese skier. Then I backed off a little as I was on the heels of the German. I waited for just a little for my opportunity to strike, knowing my strengths were the upcoming flats and descents. Once I had my opening, I went for it. Put in a burst to open up a small gap. That put team Canada in second place. I did for a moment look to see where first place was, but as they had already finished, so I wasn’t going to catch them. To be part of the team that won Canada’s very first Paralympic medal in a Relay, that is something memorable. That part about depth, yeah, Brian and Collin would add a Bronze medal in the Open Relay (making Canada the only Nation to medal in both Relays)!

Team Canada had their most successful Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang with a total of 28 medals. So to have the honour of carrying in the Canadian flag on behalf of all the successful Canadian athletes, that is something I will never forget. I could feel the pride of a Nation pulsating through me as I walked out onto that stage. I represented the accomplishments of 55 of Canada’s greatest athletes. Not to sound cliché but being the Flag-bearer was a diamond cherry on golden icing. As an enormous display of fireworks lit up the sky at the close of the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, in PyeongChang, Korea I still couldn’t believe all that had happened over the past ten days.

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