Olympic Kayaker’s Shocking Tale
Why Call Before You Dig?
In November 1986, while using a jackhammer to break up a concrete slab, Cliff Meidl received a severe electric shock. Cliff didn’t know that power lines carrying thousands of volts of electricity were buried in the concrete. When the jackhammer dug into the power lines, the electricity shot through the jackhammer and through Cliff.
The electricity traveled instantly through his whole body, burning him as it went. Cliff’s heart stopped immediately, but a firefighter did CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and revived him. He spent the next several months in the hospital while his body healed from the terrible burns.
“I had such extensive injuries that the doctors said they would have to amputate my legs,” Cliff says. Fortunately, a doctor was able to save his legs with a special operation.
Before his accident, Cliff had been a runner. “I was heartbroken because they said I wouldn’t walk again. I finally had to admit that I couldn’t be a runner.” But Cliff didn’t give up. He worked hard to build his strength and eventually was able to walk, though he has to wear heavy braces on his legs.
As part of his rehabilitation, Cliff began to canoe and kayak and became one of the best kayakers in the world. He competed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and again at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, where he was the flag bearer for the United States team.
“The accident changed the person I am. It made me a stronger person mentally and physically. I don’t think I would have had the will and determination to make it to the Olympics without going through an experience like this,” Cliff says. “But I have enormous physical limitations. The damage is done, and there’s no coming back from that.”