Paralympic flag-bearer competes at biathlon nationals in Charlo

Paralympic flag-bearer competes at biathlon nationals in Charlo

Mark Arendz sprinted from the starting line at Les Aventuriers Ski Club in Charlo to a chorus of cheers, as opening day at the Canadian Biathlon Championships got underway on Wednesday.

Just four days earlier, he was waving the Canadian Flag while leading Team Canada in the closing ceremony of the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

It's been a busy couple of weeks for the two-sport athlete from Prince Edward Island — and he hasn't even been home yet.

Arendz won five individual medals at the Games in South Korea, including a biathlon gold and his first cross-country medals. He also earned silver in the mixed relay event.

Still sinking in

The 28-year-old from Hartsville, P.E.I., said the experience still hasn't fully registered with him, but it sinks in a bit more with every glance at his medals.

"Every time it gets a little more real," he said.

And who could blame him?

Arendz led Team Canada to a historic showing in PyeongChang, setting a new national Paralympic record with 28 medals. That number bested the previous mark of 19 in Vancouver 2010.

"It was beyond words how that week had gone in South Korea," he told CBC News after competing in the men's sprint Wednesday morning.

"The ability to go from a small province to achieving anything you want. I've put my focus into sport, becoming a world champion, a Paralympian and now Paralympic champion as well.

"As long as you put your heart to it and put the hard work into it, you can achieve anything."

Charlo connection

Arendz drew plenty of attention at the Charlo ski club, with many people asking for a photo. One woman said he was an inspiration to the country.

The Maritime athlete welcomes his fame, saying he hopes to generate more excitement for his sports.

"It's bringing awareness to the sport of biathlon and cross-country, which I think is growing within the country," he said.

"People are taking notice of the results and getting excited for the sport and participating."

Arendz is no stranger to the Charlo course or the northern New Brunswick community. It was the first off-island course he visited. He also trained in Charlo for several winters during the mid-2000s.

Despite the quick turnaround from South Korea, he didn't want to miss this week's event.

"I loved coming here and the community was always so strong, so supportive," he said.