Working on a construction site in 1986, Cliff was operating a jackhammer and within moments “the lights went out” for him. He had made contact with three live electrical cables suffering cardiac arrest due to the severe electrical shock. In addition, Cliff also sustained serious electrical burns and exit wounds over fifteen percent of his body with major damage to both knees. Nearly a third of each knee compartment was disintegrated.
Fortunately, first responders arrived quickly and saved Cliff’s life by administering CPR. Cliff’s battles were not over yet. Due to the severe damage to both legs, doctors were recommending amputation. Cliff’s family was able to find UCLA Medical Center Plastic Surgeon Dr. Malcolm Lesavoy, who devised an innovative procedure and was able to help save Cliff’s legs.
As they say, “the rest is history.” Several years later through many surgical procedures and an extensive rehabilitation process, Cliff was able to gain enough mobility to walk again (to the amazement of his doctors). Nearly ten years after his horrific accident and his commitment and dedication to battle through adversity, Cliff realized his dream when he marched into the Opening Ceremonies of the Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta as a member of the USA Olympic Kayaking Team.
Four years later at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Cliff competed again in his second Olympics and received one of the highest honors as an Olympian. He was selected by his peers to carry the Unites States flag during the Opening Ceremony. Following the Games, he received a number of honors including the “Arete Courage in Sports Award,” the Philadelphia Sportswriters “Courage Award,” the Los Angeles Marathon “Patsy Choco Award,” and many more. In addition, Cliff was named as one of the 20 all-time inspirational Olympians for the “Olympian Heroes Series,” and continues to receive national and international media coverage through his spokesperson and motivational speaking events.