Monday, March 22, 2010

Young Paralympian has perfect mentor in McKeever

Young Paralympian has perfect mentor in McKeever

By Marc Weber , Canwest Paralympic TeamMarch 20, 2010

Mark Arendz of Canada competes in the Men's 12.5km Standing Biathlon event during the 2010 Paralympic Games at Whistler Paralympic Park in Whistler, Canada.

Mark Arendz of Canada competes in the Men's 12.5km Standing Biathlon event during the 2010 Paralympic Games at Whistler Paralympic Park in Whistler, Canada.
Photograph by:
Hannah Johnston, Getty Images

WHISTLER, B.C. — Canadian Para-Nordic staff called it a coincidence that Mark Arendz and Brian McKeever are sharing an apartment at these Games, but they couldn’t have planned it any better.

McKeever, who has nine career Paralympic medals — six of them gold — and could add a 10th in Sunday’s one-kilometre sprint, is the undisputed champion in his sport.

Arendz, at the age of 20 is at his first Games and, with the Nordic team’s average age creeping up on 38, he’s a crucial part of its future.

“Those are the footsteps I want to follow,” said Arendz, who had his left arm amputated above the elbow at the age of seven after a grain auger accident. “Brian’s dedication to the sport, what he’s done for the sport, that’s something I want to do for sure.

"There’ll be one day that he’ll stop, and I hope I’m still around to keep it going.”

Much of what Arendz has learned at these Games has been outside the start and finish lines. After early disappointments in the biathlon, Arendz said he wanted it too much.

His coaches — Kaspar Wirz and McKeever’s brother and guide, Robin — said the Paralympic scene had Arendz over-excited and that he’d put too much pressure on himself.

“This is a learning experience for him,” Wirz said, “and I think he’s had quite a few good experiences to learn what not to do.”

Arendz has put in several strong skiing performances at Whistler Paralympic Park, including a final leg Saturday as Canada finished seventh in the cross-country relay.

Technically and speed-wise, Robin McKeever called Arendz’s skiing “amazing.” But Arendz struggled in the biathlon range and has also been unlucky to twice break poles.

“This is an eye-opener for him, but that’s good,” said McKeever, who won gold in both the 10-kilometre and 20-kilometre visually impaired cross-country races.

“We’ve all been there and he’ll be stronger for it. He’s young and full of potential and it’s fun to watch kids like that progress.”

Arendz will also compete in the one-kilometre sprint on Sunday. He was seventh in the three-kilometre biathlon pursuit and set a personal best in the 10-kilometre cross-country race.

Following his amputation, Arendz joined the War Amps’ CHAMP program and has since counselled other young amputees and promoted the PLAYSAFE message in schools.

The native of Charlottetown, P.E.I., wants to one day qualify for an Olympics, just like McKeever, who made history this year despite not getting to compete.

Given his disability, Arendz is fully aware that his dream might sound fanciful. He experimented briefly with a prosthetic for able-bodied races but found it was more of a hindrance. The technology is not there yet, he said.

“Brian has all four limbs, so it’s a little easier for him (to qualify for the Olympics),” said Arendz, who studies engineering at the University of Calgary. “But it’s something that has always been in the back of my head and now that Brian’s done it, it’s more real for me. I’ll just keep going, and if I don’t reach it, whatever. It’s a goal.

“The biggest thing I want to do is inspire the future generation. Whether it’s in cross-country or biathlon, or any other sport, or even outside of sport. Just that kids get out there and have fun and be active, even with an amputation.”

Vancouver Province

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