When two-time USA Olympian kayaker Cliff Meidl led his Team USA Olympian teammates onto the field at the Opening Ceremonies of the Sydney Olympic Games, nearly two billion viewers around the world were watching this young man from Hawthorne, California. Many of these viewers learned for the first time about Meidl’s courageous rehabilitation and recovery from a tragic construction accident that occurred in 1986.
Meidl had jackhammered into three buried power cables that sent thousands of volts of electricity coursing through his body. He suffered an immediate cardiac arrest at the work site before four fire fighters revived him en route to the closest hospital. That powerful jolt was enough to kill several men, but somehow Cliff Meidl clung to life. “I guess I just had more to do in my life” he recalls.
He was only 20 years of age at the time and had been working his way through El Camino College in hopes of realizing his lifelong dream to become a building contractor. During this period of time, he had been working as a plumber’s apprentice.
Upon impact, the accident caused the disintegration of approximately one third of both of Meidl’s knee joints, severely burned his back and skull and literally blew off his two big toes on his right foot right through the front of his boot. In addition, the accident nearly forced the amputation of his legs.
However, Meidl was able to save his legs through an innovative surgical procedure that removed portions of his calf muscles for attachment onto the remaining knee joints, Meidl endured a total of 15 medical and surgical procedures over 15 months to save his legs. After Meidl’s knees had sufficiently healed, he used physical therapy and weight training to overcome his injuries.
After his accident, it took three years of rehabilitation and training for him to regain the ability to walk unassisted which amazed his doctors.
In addition, Meidl turned to canoeing and kayaking for the therapeutic value. However, he quickly excelled in these sports and thrived on his ability to compete with others in an equal setting. As a result, he threw himself into an aggressive weight lifting and conditioning regimen that enabled him to compete at the highest level of his new sport. After years of hard work and dedication to flat-water kayaking, Cliff began to make his dream of becoming an Olympian a reality.
In 1995, Meidl won a gold, silver and bronze medal in his kayaking events at the U.S. Olympic Festival in Denver. As they say, the rest is history. Meidl made two U.S. Olympic teams, a feat that only fifteen percent of all Olympians accomplish and, more importantly, he has inspired a nation in the process.
Just before the opening of the Sydney games, Meidl’s inspirational comeback story became known to his Olympian teammates and they provided him with the “highest honor” of leading his nation’s Olympic Delegation into the Opening Ceremonies as the Team USA Flag Bearer.
Today, he is enjoying his latest challenge–inspiring audiences. He is now sharing his inspirational story with diverse audiences all across the U.S. His story has already been featured on NBC’s Olympic coverage, “The Today Show,” CBS’ “The Morning Show,” syndicated programs such as “Oprah,” cable programs and in countless magazines and newspapers.
Meidl has served as the national media spokesperson for the Construction Safety Council, the Electrical Safety Foundation International and currently is the national spokesperson for One Calls of America, Inc. He continues to deliver his message of “Zero Tolerance” for accidents and mistakes on the job to workers and safety professionals in a variety of industries and occupations all across the U.S.
In addition, Meidl is also the recipient of a number of prestigious awards for courage. He has received the “Patients of Courage” award from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. He has also received the ARETE Award, the Philadelphia Sportswriters’ Courage in Sports Award and the “Patsy Choco Award” from the Los Angeles Marathon. In addition, he is one of 20 initial Olympian honorees of the “Olympian Heroes Series” that salutes inspirational U.S. Olympians going back to the 1948 London games and forward through the 2012 London Olympic Games. Meidl was inducted into the 2013 Distinguished Alumni Class at Mira Costa High School.
He is a graduate of Cal State University at Long Beach and has his graduate degree from the Marshall School Business at the University of Southern California. This year, Meidl decided to also obtain his OSHA Safety Certificate at Cal State University at Dominguez Hills’ OSHA Training Center and on My 31st he completed his seventh safety course and accomplished his objective.
He is now a longtime member of the Board of Trustees for El Camino College. Meidl and his wife Sara are the proud parents of young Sara Meidl and reside near the Pacific Ocean in the South Bay of Los Angeles County.