ABOUT CLIFF MIEDL
Cliff Miedl a former Junior paddler, competed in his second Olympic kayak game at Australia in 2000. He also carried the US flag at the games, and for the 2002 Winter Olympics, was an olympic torch bearer. At present the club is entering it's 32nd season, training new personnel, grooming new coaches and as always, an enthusiastic hope for the future.
Meidl to be featured in Rolling Stone and GQ Sprint kayaker Cliff Meidl (Redondo Beach, California, recently wrapped up a photo shoot with Rolling Stone Magazine for a special Olympic issue to be published this summer and is currently on location with GQ for another photo shoot of Olympians.
-US CANOE & Kayak
"The final spot on the Olympic Team was claimed Sunday by Cliff Meidl, yet another '96 U.S. Olympian. Meidl, of Redondo Beach, Calif., made the team by successfully navigating the labyrinth of non-Olympic-qualified event heats, semis and finals."
Meidl didn't make it to the semis in '96 either, but he's already had bigger victories than any medal could signify. Twelve years ago he was electrocuted by 30,000 volts -- 15 times the voltage of the electric chair -- when he drilled through three unmarked cables. His heart stopped three times, he had a hole blown in his skull, and he was told he would never walk again because his shattered knees needed total reconstruction. Ten years later he made the '96 Olympic Team, and late Sunday he got word that he'd made the 2000 team as well. -NBC OLYMPICS WEB SITE
Cliff Meidl's right foot is not a pretty sight. The big toe is a stub without a nail. The second toe is missing.
No big deal to Meidl. Heck, he almost lost his legs. He almost lost his life. But through some freak of nature or divine miracle, Meidl survived 30,000 volts of electricity and discovered kayaking, the sport that led him to the Centennial Olympic Games. His doctors are still shaking their heads.
“It has a lot to do with will and determination,'' Meidl said. “Do you want to survive?'” Survival was the only concern 10 years ago when Meidl, then a 20-year-old apprentice plumber, struck three high-voltage cables with the jackhammer he was operating at a construction site in Los Angeles County. The current raced through the jackhammer into Meidl's hands and throughout his body. The exit wounds disintegrated one-third of each knee joint and blew away portions of his shoulder and skull. The toes were a secondary concern. Meidl was unconscious for 14 hours and went into cardiac arrest three times. Doctors estimated that his body absorbed 30,000 volts, 15 times the charge in an electric chair. What in the world was an apprentice plumber doing with a jackhammer? Volunteering for extra work, Meidl said. The construction crew was laying water lines deep in the ground. “It wasn't negligence on my part,'' he said. “The lines were not supposed to be there. They were not in the blueprint. Thank God it tripped the circuit breaker, or I would have been fried to a crisp.''
As it was, Meidl felt “like a truck had run over'' his chest. When he woke up that night in the hospital, he called Gordon McHenry, a co-worker who had desperately tried to pull the jackhammer from Meidl's hands. McHenry thought the call was a sick joke. He was sure Meidl was dead. When Meidl's voice finally convinced him, McHenry broke down and cried.
Meidl shed his share of tears, too. He was bedridden for a month, and only a newfangled surgical procedure, using muscle from his calves to repair his knees - saved his legs. Amputation, doctors said, was the only alternative.
His first steps, taken with the aid of parallel bars, were sheer torture for a former soccer player and cross country runner. Some days, he wondered if death might be a better option. But Meidl, who lost 50 pounds off his 190-pound frame, persevered. He settled his legal claims out of court and went about his rehabilitation. He earned a finance degree from Long Beach State.
In 1988, Meidl watched American Greg Barton win two Olympic gold medals in kayaking. I can do that, Meidl thought. A career was born. Meidl began paddling a canoe simply for therapy. But soon he got the competitive itch, and in 1993 he turned to the kayak.
Last year, Meidl won a gold, silver and bronze medal at the U.S. Olympic Festival. Still, he thought his best chance at an Olympics was in 2000 in Sydney. But on July 30, Meidl will join his teammates in the four-man, 1,000-meter sprint kayak race on Lake Lanier in suburban Atlanta. When U.S. coach Reg Hatch called Meidl with the news three weeks ago, Meidl was asleep. To make sure it wasn't a dream, he checked his answering machine, which had recorded the call. It was no dream.
“He has the kind of talent and heart you want in the engine of a boat,'' Hatch said. The U.S. four-man kayak will travel faster than 20 miles per hour, and Meidl and his teammates will endure more than three minutes of burning pain. But the pain, talent and heart probably won't be enough to win a medal. The Hungarians, Russians and Germans are too good. Meidl is unfazed. “This is a major accomplishment in my life,'' he said. “I've come across several hurdles in my life.''
His next hurdle is tonight's opening ceremonies. Since his accident, Meidl has been unable to stand for long stretches of time. Running is out of the question. But although he'll have to stand inside the stadium for perhaps an hour or more, Meidl plans to march into Olympic Stadium. “I'll just put on a big knee brace and endure it,'' Meidl said. “A bit of pain won't hurt at all...”
“I don't take life for granted at all. If there's a risk, I'll take it. There's not a lot I shy away from. Basically, you can't kill a weed.''
Truth is, you can't kill Cliff Meidl's spirit.
- FROM NEWSTIMES ARCHIVE 1996