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Olympics Daily Report

Meidl Preparing to Make His Stand

July 19, 1996|ROBYN NORWOOD

Ten years ago, Cliff Meidl accomplished what he remembers as the most difficult physical feat of his life: He pulled himself to his feet and walked five feet between two rehabilitation bars.

Tonight, he will march in the opening ceremonies as a member of the U.S. flatwater kayaking team.

That won't be such a simple matter, because Meidl cannot stand comfortably for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time.

Meidl, 30, was a 20-year-old apprentice plumber in 1986 when he was nearly killed after the jackhammer he was operating struck three unmarked high-voltage cables. Meidl suffered devastating burns to his knees and back and lost two toes on his right foot.

"I'll put on a big knee brace and endure it," said Meidl, who was born in Manhattan Beach, graduated from Long Beach State and lives in Redondo Beach. "So what if there's a little pain, after all I've been through to get here."

A former soccer player who could no longer run after the accident, he took up outrigger canoeing for rehabilitation, then discovered flatwater kayaking three years ago.

"I saw Greg Barton win two gold medals and it gave me incredible inspiration that this might be a sport I'd be able to do," Meidl said.

He has grown used to hearing the word miracle even from doctors and nurses.

"You know something, I think I was just the right age, 20 years old. My heart wasn't too old and it wasn't too young. It was able to endure the shock. And my will and determination as an individual took over."

"There were times--a couple of weeks, a couple of months, a couple of years after the accident--when I asked myself if it would have been better not to survive. The hurdles were so hard. But obviously I'm very happy to be here."

The opening ceremonies might require him to stand for 1 1/2 hours or more. Meidl says he's ready.

"I'm very aware about the duration of walking around. Any time I can take advantage and sit down and rest up, I'll do it," he said. "There's not a whole lot that's going to keep me from being there now."

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