Welcome home to Canada’s record-breaking Paralympians
It’s a happy and historic homecoming for Team Canada and its 55 Canadian athletes who competed in the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, between March 9 and 18th. Collectively, they bring home a record number of 28 medals — a glistening haul to upstage their previous hardware record of 19 (nabbed eight years ago in Vancouver) medals — effectively blowing away their “cautious” goal of just 17 for this year’s event.
Last week, former AU student Mark Arendz competed for record-breaking wins of his career as a Paralympian athlete, on both the slopes and the trails of South Korea. The Games solidified Arendz’s status as one of Canada’s top winter Paralympians of all time, having earned six Paralympic medals — including silver in the men’s 7.5 km standing event in the biathlon, bronze in the men’s 1.5 km cross-country sprint, a second bronze in the 12.5 km biathlon — each to add to the two he earned in 2014 at Sochi, and to the many more accolades won in his 28 years.
But it was last Friday when Arendz cinched his first Paralympic biathlon gold in the men’s 15 km standing race. The victory helped to secure Team Canada’s record for largest Paralympic medal sweep since the Games’ inception and, adding to Arendz’s other five medals in biathlon and cross-country skiing, rightfully earned him the role as team flagbearer in Sunday’s closing ceremonies, where the Calgary Sun captured Arendz’ six-medal adrenaline surge.
“There were no down days, I think we were riding the high,” said Arendz. “We started on this wave and we were riding it, not just nordic, but everyone here in team Canada contributed to that as well.”
AU athletes on the world stage
The 2018 Paralympic Games kicked off two weeks ago in Pyeongchang in South Korea, with 55 Team Canada athletes competing across five sports. Once again, on the heels of its 2018 companion, the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, our Team Canada Paralympic athletes include former AU learners.
Paralympian multiple-medalist biathlete and cross-country skier Mark Arendz (pictured right), Para Nordic champion Derek Zaplotinsky, and Paralympic Guides, Russell Kennedy and Graham Nishikawa, are each former AU students.
“There were no down days, I think we were riding the high.”– Mark Arendz, six-time medalist at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, and former AU student.
Guiding to victory
Guides Kennedy and Nishikawa were in Pyeongchang for four-time Pyeongchang 2018 Para Nordic champion medalist, Brian McKeever. Kennedy (AU’s BSc program 2011), also a four-time Paralympic medal recipient, and a resident of Canmore, Alta., has represented Canada internationally since 2010. He also competed in last month’s 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, racing in the men’s sprint classic, the 4 x 10 km relay and the 50 km mass start.
And, Nishikawa (BComm, 2003), a native of Whitehorse, Yukon, who scored three medals at this Paralympics, has pursued Para Nordic skiing full-time since 2002. He competed in the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, collecting one of McKeever’ three gold medals there. In February 2017, the Nishikawa-McKeever pairing claimed gold in the 10-km and 20-km cross-country races, and nabbed bronze in the 4 x 2.5 km relay.
Undeterred by accident
Twelve years ago, Derek Zaplotinsky’s able-bodied athletic prowess was put to the test — and on permanent hold — when he was crushed by a dirt bike during a motocross race in Lloydminster, Alta. The accident rendered him a paraplegic from the waist down. But four years later, he remarkably returned to the competitive pathways and slopes, as both a para-cyclist and as a cross-country skier, solidifying a veritable ‘Comeback Kid’ status, most recently representing Canada in Pyeongchang, and in 2015 and 2017, on Canada’s world championship Para Nordic team, and was a double medallist at the 2015 Canada Games.
“It means a lot to be able to represent my country at the biggest stage of my sport. I’m pretty proud,” said Zaplotinsky in a CBC interview last year when he was still vying to make his Paralympic dreams a reality.
And Mark Arendz was just seven-years-old in 1997, when he was injured in a farming accident which severed his left arm from above the elbow. The event, however, would not deter the resident of Hartsville, P.E.I., who would become involved with the War Amps organization as a junior counsellor, and eventually parlaying his personal plight to the educational pursuit of providing the public with farm safety information, eventually launching an able-bodied competitive career using a ski prosthetic, and today reigning as the country’s most victorious Paralympian.
While the Winter Games may be over for another four years, you can still offer your cheers of pride to these four remarkable athletes on Twitter via @markarendz, @Derek_zap, @GrahamNishikawa, and @rusyspurs.
Sidebar: Colour Commentary with Carrie Anton
“The Paralypmics, aren’t they awesome! We’re doing so well,” remarked Carrie Anton last Friday after Team Canada officially broke its record for most wins in a Paralympics event ever. Carrie knows the feel and fervour of Paralympic pride all-too-well. In 2012, she was an on-air presenter of Canadian coverage for CTV and AMI, based in London, England. The Assistive Technologist, with AU’s Access to Students with Disabilities, recalls the energy and excitement both on-the-air and off, including the technical duties she helped CTV with such as coordinating her location shots.
“It was really fun to create the daily 30-minute highlight reel, and to coordinate with CTV where to be the next day. I also was hired by CBC to do some interviews in London — which was great to break live news of medals, and talk to the communities how had athletes [fared] competing.”