Learning to adapt is nothing new for Mark Arendz.
He has lived most of his life with one arm, he can do everything most people take for granted — drive a car, tie his shoes and, much to the dismay of his dentist, open small jars.
Well, maybe not everything.
"I haven't mastered the monkey bars yet," he said with a smile during a recent interview over Zoom from the Olympic training centre in Canmore, Alta.
I'm sure my dentist would not like the fact that I use my teeth for a lot of different things. — Mark Arendz
"But I always try to find different ways. Sometimes it's not always the prettiest but I find ways to do everything else. And I'm sure my dentist would not like the fact that I use my teeth for a lot of different things."
Of course, there are some things he can do that few others can. He has become one of Canada's most decorated Paralympic winter athletes, winning eight medals over the last two games.
Less time in gym
So when something like COVID-19 comes along, he doesn't dwell on the cancelled ski races or public health restrictions, he looks for new opportunities to adapt.
The public health measures meant a change to his training regime — more time doing body exercises in his living room than lifting weights in the gym, for example.
It hasn't slowed him down. With the Winter Paralympic Games six months away, he said he's feeling strong and healthy.
"I started making that quick shift to what I could gain from this, and now it's drawn out a lot longer than I thought it would but it's still making those big gains and using every opportunity to get ready for, we still hope, the Paralympic Games in Beijing."
With funding from Own the Podium, Sport Canada and Nordic Canada, Arendz has been able to make training and competing with the national Paralympic team his full-time job.
'Hard to step away'
Though he has a ski park named in his honour in his home province of P.E.I, Canmore allows him access to world-class training facilities year round. He hasn't been on the Island since the start of the pandemic, but hopes to return sometime after the Paralympics in March.
"Unless P.E.I. can guarantee me some snow, it's really hard to step away … so I think my parents are now used to the fact that I don't come home for the Christmases before the Games."
Sometimes the parents are a little shy or try to herd the kids away a little bit but no, those opportunities I really enjoy to just step in and, you know, share what's wrong. — Mark Arendz
He hopes to compete at the 2026 Paralympics as well, likely his last crack at the podium. Now 31, he's also looking toward the future. He's taking classes in kinesiology at the University of Calgary.
Like he has always done, he'll adapt to whatever direction his life takes. And he said he'll never shy away from being a role model, even if it's just answering questions from a curious kid in the grocery store who notices he has just one arm.
"Sometimes the parents are a little shy or try to herd the kids away a little bit but no, those opportunities I really enjoy to just step in and, you know, share what's wrong," he said.
"Usually I say I lost my arm when I was seven and I think depending on their age they can relate a little bit to that…. Then if the opportunity presents itself I also bring in the sports I play and things like that so they can really try to put that all together, and I think that's really healthy for the kids to see that and learn from that."