Transcript: Mark Arendz on Player’s Own Voice podcast
November 23 2021
Anastasia: We’re about 100 days til the winter Paralympics begin. Which means, fingers crossed, that we are also about 100 days away from another spectacular performance (or two… or three!) from biathlete Mark Arendz.
I don’t worry about jinxing the guy by saying that, because the cross country skier and shooter has an insatiable hunger to better his own results. He may have been on fire at the 2018 Paralympics, but what Mark Arendz remembers most clearly from all his wins are the thousand tiny ways he can still improve in a notoriously difficult sport.
Anastasia: Thank you so much for taking the time. I have admitted that if I was not a long track speed skater, my parents were going to put me in biathlon, so it’s nice to talk with the Goat!
Mark Arendz: Well, actually funny thing my parents actually were debating to go east or west when they immigrated from Holland to here, and I’m sure if I would have been here in the west, it would have been. I would have been a speed skater.
Anastasia: We would have been flip flopped. Biathlon is the most interesting. It is one of the most interesting sports, I think. So this is a blunt way to ask it. But how have you kept hungry? I mean, you’ve won so much. Eight Paralympic medals. Flagbearer in Pyeongchang. How do you keep hungry?
Mark Arendz: Well, I think that’s the beauty of biathlon. There is always more to be had. I kind of said I was always chasing that perfect race, and there’s always those little elements that I am….well, you know, sometimes I’m skiing well, but I could be skiing faster. Or, I could be shooting well, but I could be shooting faster or better. And so I think those elements really help for me to keep hungry.
You know, what’s the limit I can push in the shooting? How fast can I go with shooting before missing? Because this is just I can’t afford misses.. And so it’s like finding that limit of how far…Can I do it without breathing is my next question!
And then on the skiing, it’s a whole other list of questions. You know, can I be faster here? Can I? Um, can I train harder? Can I peak higher with certain events, things like that? So for me, biathlon has always been that perfect balance of trying to find, where can I push a little bit more? And because of the two sports, I guess there’s just more volume of places to improve.
Anastasia: Are you a better shooter or a better skier?
Mark Arendz: better shooter.
Anastasia: Or is that a silly question like, I know you probably get that a lot.
Mark Arendz: So it’s there are days where both, you know, one or the other is stronger. In general over a career, I’ve always been a stronger shooter. And not as strong skiing. So the shooting has always usually kept me in a lot of the races. But now the skiing is starting to catch up as well. And so I’m yeah, depending on the race.
Anastasia: where you good at ‘Duck Hunt?’
Mark Arendz: No, I never played.
Anastasia: Oh, come on!
Mark Arendz: I never shot until I started shooting biathlon.
Anastasia: I just went skeet shooting with my folks because they have a farm in Saskatchewan and I was brutal. I hit. I hit one of the clay pigeons, one time. I was thinking about you, I was like, My God, I wouldn’t be good at biathlon!
Mark Arendz: Oh yeah, with us it’s repetition. It’s always repetition. And, you know, we’re doing thousands and thousands of rounds in a year and we’re always working at trying to work within what we’re doing. So when we’re coming in, we’re not necessarily holding our breath or trying to calm her heart rate as quickly as possible. We’re trying to work within that.
Because we can’t wait for our heart rates to come down. So a lot of the practise, especially now that we’re on snow, we can actually really dial this in… is actually coming in the way we want to come in in competition and lay down and where everything’s just going crazy,but we have to find that nice little pathway, that calm pathway in there somewhere that allows us to be both focussed and kind of blocking everything out. And so we’re just focussed on trying to get what we need: those process, those steps that we need in order to shoot well.
Anastasia: So how do you train for biathlon? I mean, it’s like raw brute power and then so much finesse. how do you do that? And you just visualize? I’m so interested in that.
Mark Arendz: I I think it’s… I love that challenge. It’s those mixing those two things. The yeah, like you said, the brute power of skiing, the all out effort and then being able to. For me, it’s: I hit this marker and I switch, and it’s like, ‘OK, I’m a shooter now’, and I even say it in my head. ‘I’m a shooter now’. And for me, that just starts a chain reaction. OK, I’m looking at the wind flags, I’m looking at the people in front of me, if they’re going to move in and out of the range, because that could be chaotic. I’m looking at the Sun, I’m looking, OK, how do I feel a quick little check? OK, I feel like I’m really pushing it, so maybe I need to take that extra breath when I lay down, find my rifle, lay down. You go through that process and all the time, I’m kind of subconsciously, going through that checklist. And unless there is something that comes out of it and be like, Oh no, that doesn’t feel right, OK, now I just and then get into position and that calm, and I really love that feeling of that transition.
And then being able to… everything comes together for that one shot. And yeah, you’re balancing on the smallest, smallest mistake could mean a miss or the difference between a miss and a hit, and that could be your race as well, right off the bat. And I know I struggled with that a few years ago where it was: I was afraid to take those miss. I was afraid to miss because I knew I needed the hitting. Hits were what I needed in order to succeed. I was so afraid I was actually slowing my shooting down. I had terrible shooting.
And finally, it’s like, Let’s try something… I have to be aggressive. And I found that my best shooting has been when I’m aggressive and going for it and not, you know, I’m almost daring myself to hit.
Anastasia: You say it’s a balance. If you gain five pounds, does that just affect everything, not just your skiing, but your shooting?
Mark Arendz: It depends where it is if it’s in my cheeks. Yeah, for sure! And there’s always there’s always that change. Actually, the sun, the wind, the Sun, the humidity, all these little factors will play into it.
We’ve had ranges where we train in the afternoon when it’s warm and the next morning it’s melted so much that you’re two or three inches lower and that changes everything. So it’s adjusting to those.
We want consistency. The best shooters are consistent and we want the same thing over and over again. We want the rifle to touch your cheek just in the same spot. We want it to feel like it’s on the same part of our bones.
Anastasia: You should get a Botox sponsorship buddy. I could run your marketing campaign right now.
Mark Arendz: Keep it nice and flush!
Anastasia: Nice. Nice. You got to have a night cream, for sure. Yeah.
Mark Arendz: So all these different things will change over time, and it’s about trying to repeat the same thing, but in different conditions.
Anastasia: Let’s back up a few years, go back to Pyeongchang. You had so much success. How has life changed since then?
Mark Arendz: In a way, now I’m a lot more mature and I needed to be more mature as an athlete in order to take the next step after Pyeongchang. The success of Pyeongchang, I think even a week after, it’s like, how do you top this? And I guess for me, my answer actually immediately was, I don’t top this. I have to evolve into something different. The circumstances of Pyeongchang just set up the ability to be that successful, and those will never be there again, and to be at that level. I think it’s unrealistic to go after that again and to say that’s the goal. And so for me, I have a very similar goal to Pyeongchang, and that’s when I get to the start line. On March 5th, 2022, I’m going to be at the best I can be.
Best prepared, have the best skis, I have the best fitness, and then I throw down in the race and when I cross the finish line, essentially I just put my cards on the table and say, Beat them if you can! And I think that’s been, that started in Sochi, that kind of mindset, that kind of approach to results or performance there. And it was very successful for me in Pyeongchang. And now I want to take that further now into Beijing. And I think that’s the best way for me to… I’m not looking to repeat the results. I’m looking to evolve the performance and see what happens after that.
Anastasia: Was the success and all the results cracked up to what you thought it would be?
Mark Arendz: I still can’t believe those results. There were days…. and and what was neat was it was results and performance from all over. Like, I had bad results and still was able to… the sprint comes to mind. That was a terrible tactical race for me. I made so many mistakes and even in the final 200 metres, I made so many mistakes that I’m very upset with, even still, and I’m working on those mistakes, but I think they’re kind of ingrained to work on those things, and that’s kind of the lesson I learnt from those sprints. And, you know, luckily I’m 6’3″ and was able to learn the line for that bronze. And I think between all six races, there were just days where I woke up and knew today was going to be a medal winning performance and other days where it’s like, OK, well, you got to make sure the steps are right or this is not going to be great.
And it was really interesting. There were races that were really well done, like the gold and in the long distance in the biathlon and other races where I didn’t feel good but pushed through, found a different angle to work on, found a different tactic on a hill or focussed on technique, and those led me to the success.
Anastasia: You have been candid and you said having to re learn, you know, everything that people with two arms do. So naturally, all those challenges set you up perfectly for biathlon. What do you mean by that?
Mark Arendz: Well, I think I think it’s all sport actually… going through losing my arm at seven. The doctors were, it was kind of a strange comment from them, but it was. They said it was kind of the perfect age. I was old enough to realise what had happened and understand that, but also young enough to kind of adapt. And there were challenges that took much longer to adapt and things I just skip altogether. Monkey bars? Don’t even start. But I think it’s learning those little things learning to deal with everyday challenges. You know, how do you cut a bun with a knife? Cutting slices of tomato, things like that. So those are all the little….You know, there’s a handful! Tying my shoes was one of the hard ones. And it wasn’t until I saw this girl in a pretty pink dress that I was like. OK, she can do it with one hand. I can do it with one hand too, so. And as an athlete. It’s something we do, you know, two or three times a day, I’m tying my shoes.
So there are all these little challenges I think helped get me practised for lack of a better word at dealing with challenges right away, which is something that we all as athletes experience. We have these little challenges. Sometimes it’s the challenge of just getting better, you know, trying to get that new PB. A new record, whatever it may be or just getting something right technically. And we have these little challenges. And I think growing up and having to learn all these new little things made me aware. And yeah, I was able to just kind of take that first hand experience and bring it to sport and I still do.
Anastasia: You said that sport is like therapy for you and that it satiates a hunger. What are you hungry for?
Mark Arendz: Just constantly improving. I want to see, not necessarily see what my limits are, but see how far I can push those. And that’s the physical limits of trying to push the mental limits of, you know, can,if everything is going wrong and nothing is going right, can I still be able to turn on the switch and be like, OK, this is a good performance and not let outside things bother me. Those are the limits I really want to push, and I’m curious to see how far I can go.
Anastasia: Do you not get scared of the pain, though, like I would get…Oh my gosh, I’d have to do a fifteen hundred metre or something that was too long and I’d be so scared. Like, it hurts. I can only imagine.
Mark Arendz: I think that’s there are days, yeah, absolutely, where it’s like, OK, this is not going to be fun, this is not going to be good, it’s going to be scary and I’m not looking forward to it. But it’s also OK, maybe that’s the day where something else happens. I know some days I’m looking out the window. It’s like, Huh, that’s a foot of fresh snow there and it’s still snowing. And I remember,
Anastasia: I can’t imagine that’s not the most fun to ski.
Mark Arendz: It is. And in the end, it’s like, OK, well, I’ll have to go and do this workout, and it’s going to be up to my knees. And I remember a couple of those workouts, one in New Zealand in particular, it was an afternoon workout. The hill is the place where we’re skiing, it’s closed because no one can get to it. We’re just staying right at the site. So we could just go out the door and go. And opening the door was tough enough with that much snow. And I remember it was an hour long giggle. I just giggled and had so much fun in these impossible conditions like I’m making track. No one else is out there. I can’t see a thing, and I’m just giggling at how foolish I am to be out there. But it was so much fun and I’ve had a couple of days like that, and I think another one is just the adventures I can have, whether it’s a run or a bike or skis, you know, in the middle of nowhere in the middle of these mountains. And it’s like, OK, I need to get myself back too, because no one’s going to find me if I don’t.
Anastasia: You have loved the challenge of winning and you win a lot. Again, congratulations. But you’ve always been candid with looking for more meaning via sport. What do you mean by meaning?
Mark Arendz: Well, yeah. So part of sport being therapeutic, I believe wholeheartedly in the power of sport. When I lost my arm and a lot of things, I could have just been like, OK, well, that’s it. But for me, I guess being young, I’m just foolish enough to just keep doing everything else, that I was doing, whether it I was helping my parents on the farm. But sport was really somewhere where I could show others. My ability rather than my disability. I don’t need two arms to cross-country run, and so I and I had the body type for it and the desire to run. And so that was kind of the big one that I really pushed as a kid. Going out to school was pushing that: can I run? I can run and I can jump. I can’t jump that high.
Mark Arendz: and then the next thing was, OK, I can use this to my benefit. My arm is stronger than most people’s one arm. So then I kind of got into some throwing events. Then I realised I was way too skinny for throwing events, the good ones.
And so it was just all these different sports allowed me to show other people I could still do whatever, even with one hand. And I think that was that was the therapeutic side of it. And now it’s evolved into the success through my actions. You know, I know how to train. I want to commit myself to that training. I want to do the things right. You know, there are days where I have to go and just think about one simple movement in order to get that right. And I think showing that commitment to others and they see the hard work I can do and the progress that I’m getting, you know, I can remember first time coming to Canmore and how I was skiing. And now there are other people looking at me, at how I’m skiing, just to see if they can copy that because it’s I’ve worked on that, It’s now that efficient and I want to be an example for others to say, OK, that’s what the best looks like and push. And then I want later on, maybe step in there and be like, OK, let’s push even further.
Anastasia: You strike me as someone who loves complexity and a complex challenge. Have you always been that way?
Mark Arendz: Yeah, I think so. And I think again, it comes from having to do simple task, but in a different way. And so it’s that the analytical side of just trying to figure out, OK, what? What can I do? How can I do this? And what is it similar to? My dentist doesn’t approve of some of my methods, like it’s holding things with my teeth or open bottles with my teeth. And so my dentist is definitely not happy with me. but it happens.
Anastasia: And you’ve been so candid with just like the role of sport in your life and you’ve said I couldn’t live without sport. Without insinuating that you’re retiring anytime soon, what do you think you’ll do when you hang him up?
Mark Arendz: I’ll be staying in sport. Yeah, I think so. I’ve always enjoyed, it and I like I said, I love the power of sport. And for me, a goal that I haven’t even touched yet is trying to make other people better if they want.
Whether that’s a coach or going into admin or or any level of sport, I think I want to make the next generation better. And I think that at that time, I think that’s how I’m going to measure my successes. Is the next generation better than I am? Because if they’re not, I think I’ll feel like I’m failing myself and in my job, or in my role, whatever that might be.
So it’s a goal I haven’t started working on yet…little pieces here and there, but I’m always I wanting to know more about sport in general. I want to be quite literally a student of sport. I want to… you know, I love speed skating. So I see what they’re doing. What are they training for? How are they training? How are cyclists training? I want to think outside the box and learn from other sports and see what we can bring over. How’s this country doing something and how is this other country doing something? And I think there’s really neat lessons to be learnt if you’re looking for it.
Anastasia: Well, you certainly have had a very long career, so you’ve been gifted with perspective. What are some of the challenges that you think the Nordic community has in Canada? It’s such a large sport in so many other areas of the world, and we have had a lot of success. I mean, in particular with folks like you. But what are some of the challenges that your sport’s facing? I
Mark Arendz: You know, there are days where I think that list is quite long. I think it’s… Part of it is awareness. We don’t see, see the sport, and in most of Europe and all around the world, they see the sport on the weekends of throughout the winter, and I think we’re missing that.
Not to sound rude or anything, but we don’t need to see highlights of hockey. You know, four or five times every morning, let’s show more sport, I think. If we wanted to, you could have four or five hours of different sports and cheering on.
In Europe, the competitions are all set up to match and go after each other. So it could be the first run of Alpine and then a cross-country race, then you know, a little bit of ski jumping. Then it’s back to the second run of an alpine race. Then it’s biathlon and that’s how it’s set up. So you have four hours, you have a whole day if you want to watch. We need to bring the sport to the larger populations of Canada, whether that’s Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, these big cities, we need to try to get the sport there and. I think our know once success comes, people will be attracted to the sport. And once people see the sport, the kids are going to be, you know, I want to do that. That looks fun. I want to see other kids take up the challenge of biathlon, not only one hard sport, but try to do two at the same time!
Anastasia: Pretty hard. It’s hard, even just watching it. I’m like holding my breath while I’m watching it. How much pressure do you put on yourself, though, knowing that you are one of the faces that can get the success, can get the sport significant exposure?
Mark Arendz: At the moment, I don’t think about it. Or in the moment I should say, I don’t think about it, I think. For me, it’s my success has always come from the process. I need to be: these are the steps I need. I need to decide what I need to do to be ready and then do those things in my head, and yes, that’s sometimes adapting the race plan if I need to, but also, you know, having a plan and executing that plan.
Anastasia: March 5th, 2022 How often do you think about that date?
Mark Arendz: Oh, only the last three years! No. And for me, it’s the opening ceremonies are on the 4th. I know that, but I don’t need to be ready for the opening ceremonies. I want to be ready for that first race, and that’s why it’s always been for me, March 5th that’s the day where I need to be ready for and that’s in my head. That’s the time that I need to be focussed at the end of my timeline. And then it’s about execution. Yeah, it’s always been kind of the excitement I looked it up a couple of weeks after Pyeongchang ended. It’s like, OK, that’s the goal, because for me, I need that that point and that’s where I want to get to.
Anastasia: What time will your race start?
Mark Arendz: Around noon.
Anastasia: Isn’t that isn’t that wild that you can tell someone where you’re going to be four years out in advance? What do your days look like from here until Beijing?
Mark Arendz: For me, I think the big one is just making smarter decisions, using every opportunity to get the best, what I need, whether that’s, I need to work on this element today or I need to do this in this race. We’re into the fun stuff. This is now, it’s about the last few weeks, last few months and eventually it’ll be the last few days and it’s about having that fun setting up everything. I know I’ve done the work and it’s now just pretty much putting the icing on the cake.
Anastasia: Will you shave your beard? I’m thinking aerodynamics, buddy.
Mark Arendz: I’m thinking about it, but I’m not sure yet
Anastasia: Would that actually have…. it drives me crazy when I see speed skaters with a beard…
Mark Arendz: , I know,Hey, full speedsuit and a beard? I don’t know. I haven’t raced the games with. But no, it started with the pandemic. I’m not sure what I thought about it. Like, what am I going to do with it? But not sure yet .
Anastasia: That might be just the little millimeter. Yeah, your 9th medal
Mark Arendz: point seven of a second.
Anastasia: Yeah, yeah. I appreciate you taking the time so much. It’s lovely to see you. We, of course, we would be pumping iron together about a decade ago. So it’s it’s funny how this is full circle. I really appreciate your time.
Mark Arendz: Thank you for having me.
Yeah, thank you. And you got me on to the mountains. Let’s just acknowledge, I’m with a crew of people from Toronto. They’re like, we have to do this outdoors! I’m like, Yeah, I should take a moment and just stop and smell the roses. We’re pretty lucky.
Mark Arendz: Exactly, yeah, that fresh air!
Canada has some beauty spots, but not many can hold a candle to Canmore, Alberta.
That’s where Mark and I caught up, on the edge of Frozen Thunder, the early season nordic training track there.
You can enjoy the scenery too… in a video version of this chat at CBC sports youtube channel
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