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2019 World Para Nordics: Canada’s athletes prepping for Prince George

Mark Arendz, Natalie Wilkie encourage residents to hear the stories and cheer loudly

Did you know that Prince George is actually the first Canadian city to host a World Para Nordic Skiing Championships?

It’s true! This is the 14th installment of the international event, the fourth to be held in North America, and first in our nation, which means Canada’s team will be extra motivated to win or defend some medals on home soil.

This is the case for Mark Arendz and Natalie Wilkie, who are no strangers to racing for high stakes on the world stage.

For Arendz, this is his second World Para Nordic appearance and is coming off an impressive outing at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics, winning six medals, including gold, for biathlon long distance.

“My goal has been the same for the last few major events, which is to come into them as prepared as I can be and put down the race that I want,” explains the 28-year-old to PrinceGeorgeMatters. “I need to manage the factors that only I can control. If I can cross that finish line knowing that I’ve done everything that I can, then it's up to how everything else finishes. You just have to put your cards down on the table and wait to see what happens.”

This is Arendz’s second trip to B.C.’s northern capital in the last month, having visited the city in January to scout the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club, which he claims is the best venue he’s seen in recent years.

“I think just the atmosphere within it, the quality of the trails they’ve built, and the surrounding areas; I’m really looking forward to exploring some of the recreational trails too when I have the time.”

The Charlottetown, P.E.I.-born product lost his left arm in a corn auger when he was seven years old, but he never let his impairment stop his skiing ambitions.

His motivation is his passion for biathlon and to represent his country wholeheartedly.

“I try to improve myself every day when I wake up every morning, figuring out what I need to do today,” he said. “There are these little tiny things that I’m constantly training myself through each week, and that, ultimately, is to get me to the Paralympics. Each day is another step I have to take, so it’s a matter of getting those correct and asking myself ‘What do I need to do in order to be better next week next month, and next four years.’”

Natalie Wilkie is the youngest member of Team Canada after turning 18 years old on Jan. 21

She specializes in cross-country skiing, claiming the gold medal in middle distance racing at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics, the silver in the mixed relay, and a bronze in the sprint.

This is also the first trip to Prince George for the Salmon Arm, B.C. native.

“To be honest, I kind of expected the city to be smaller,” Wilkie chuckled in an interview with PrinceGeorgeMatters. “It’s bigger than I expected with a lot of nice people and they’re really excited about the championships too. The Caledonia Ski Club is absolutely gorgeous, like, the trails are just in perfect condition. I’m very excited to be racing here.”

While at school in 2016, she lost four fingers on her left hand while in wood-working class, but she continued her dream to make the podium, enlisting herself as an able-bodied Nordic athlete.

“Everyone is here in the same boat in terms of having a disability or have gotten into an accident and that’s what makes this competition so unique,” she explained, adding her family has provided a lot of support to get her to this point in her career.

Wilkie believes interested residents, even those who may not have witnessed a Para Nordic event to come down and just cheer as oud as they can, especially for one particular event.

“I think people would be very excited to watch the cross-country sprint,” she said. “The race are short, but that’s what makes it so spectator friendly. There are three races and it’s an all-day affair, but it’s worth staying out in the cold and watching the championships.”

You can see Wilkie compete in four cross-country races over the course of the 10-day event, including the standing middle distance, the standing sprint, the 15km long distance, and the team relay.

Arendz will be suiting up for several races, such as the 12.5km middle distance biathlon tomorrow (Feb. 16), middle distance cross-country, team relays if needed, and finishing with the 20km long distance cross-country on the last day (Feb. 24).

Both agree that people should be inspired by the athletes’ stories and how they overcame obstacles to get to where they are.

The 2019 World Para Nordic Skiing Championships begin tonight (Feb. 15) at the Prince George Civic Centre with the opening ceremonies at 7 p.m.


Kyle  Balzer

About the Author: Kyle Balzer

Kyle Balzer graduated with distinction from BCIT's Broadcast & Online Journalism program in 2016. Since moving to Prince George, he has covered a variety of stories from education & Indigenous relations, to community interests & sports.
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