CANMORE – A mere mention of the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympic Games in the midst of local Para Nordic skiers flashes an array of emotions: stern determination, an ear-to-ear smile, and calm, cool and collected.
On Monday (Oct. 19), Paralympians Brian McKeever, Mark Arendz and Brittany Hudak tested the snow during Frozen Thunder’s opening day at the Canmore Nordic Centre as the trail to the games feel a bit more real in an unreal time.
“My goal has always been and still is March 5, 2022,” said Arendz, 30. “That’s the first race of the Paralympics in Beijing.”
After a record-breaking 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games for the Canadian Para Nordic squad, anticipation is high among athletes for an encore four years later.
Arendz of Hartsville, P.E.I, feels a step ahead, stronger than ever and his mindset is locked in for whatever the next year-and-a-half throws at him until Beijing.
“That’s where I want to be at my best and now I think we’ll see this has been a bit of a detour on the expected pathway to Beijing, but we still have a little over a year to that goal and I’ll be in a really good position as long as I stay in an upbeat with it,” Arendz said.
The anticipation among Para Nordic skiers this season is more domestic events and fewer international with the World Para Championships scheduled for February in Norway being the big-ticket event of the season.
An objective during the unpredictable season is aimed towards focusing on becoming better skiers, and when races happen, making the most of it.
“Obviously, the season is a little bit up in the air as things are changing month-to-month,” said Hudak, 27. “I’m trying not get my hopes up. I’m setting goals more geared towards my weaknesses in the sport that will make me a better athlete overall.”
After an unusually different off-season – and different doesn't necessarily mean bad, said Hudak – the Prince Albert, Sask. native is feeling at about where she needs to be right now – even if races are up-in-the-air at the moment.
Hudak added there’s something about putting on a race bib and going to the start line. She hopes her success in 2018 sets a bar for herself in Beijing.
"I’m hoping that still goes on, even if the process looks a little different leading into it, I definitely like to have more personal bests there," Hudak said.
The record-breaking 2018 PyeongChang Winter Paralympic Games was a historic competition for the national Para Nordic team, which scored a best-ever 16 medals.
Eleven were won by Arendz (gold, two silver, three bronze), Hudak (bronze), and McKeever (three gold, bronze) in skiing and biathlon events.
As unpredictable as the upcoming season might be, veteran skier McKeever set his focus strictly on next season’s Paralympic Games, which will be his last.
"I don’t have any goals this year. It will all be for Beijing," said McKeever, 41. "If a season happens, then great. I'll take advantage of that and do races when I can, but if a season doesn’t happen, it’s just training for next year"
McKeever, widely recognized as one of the top Para Nodic skiers in history, has competed in five Paralympic games and won 17 medals.
The 2022 Paralympics will present different meanings and experiences for all the local athletes. One common trait among them though when the prestige event is mentioned is a scorching fire lighting their eyes for what’s to come just under 18 months away.