Rex Cleveland and the Story of the Vibrating Bed
Our relationship began with a mattress in the back of a van and a vibrating bed. I think I need to explain……
It was early 1984 and two British innocents with a dream were living in Tallahassee. I was 22 and Kirsty was 21 and the dream was a place in the Olympic team for the LA Games. We worked, we saved, we used our meagre savings and we were supported by friends and family.
Spending six months training in Florida seemed unfeasibly glamorous for naïve youngsters like us. It felt less glamorous when we arrived and our belongings headed back towards New York on the wrong bus and then the coldest winter in half a century decimated the orange crop. We were living the dream but it began as a bit of a bad one.
Things changed and Tallahassee soon felt like home and many members of Gulf Winds Track Club felt like family. Although Kirsty unfortunately picked up an injury which was ultimately to prevent her getting close to Olympic selection, it didn’t stop her making a mark on the local road race scene (and a few male egos!) by finishing 6th overall in the Palace Saloon 5k. It was through the network of kindness that had been shown to us that we came to meet Rex and Mae, the mattress – and the vibrating bed. As a very average road racer, I was very keen if possible to take part in a large scale American event before we headed home to the UK. River Run in Jacksonville was a possibility but without transport or any meaningful financial resources, it looked like it would be impossible. Then at the last minute, someone suggested we call Rex and Mae, as they were planning to go. With typical generosity, they offered us a lift and when we arrived had even kitted out the van with a mattress so we had somewhere to sleep that would save a hotel bill. I hope this is all starting to make sense now…
We arrived in Jacksonville and they checked into a Red Roof Inn, which was glamour personified to us youthful Brits. After a few minutes, Mae came back and said that the room they had been allocated had two double beds and would we like to share? Although the mattress in the van seemed a great option, the prospect of an actual double bed the night before the race was irresistible. We unloaded our kit and Rex and Mae went for a bite to eat. It was at this point we noticed the coin operated slot by the side of the bed. It is fair to say we were intrigued. After some scurrying around, a quarter was found and duly inserted. I can remember the feeling of vague hysteria taking over us both as we realised that the bed was beginning to vibrate. At that moment we truly knew what it was like to live in ‘the home of the brave and the land of the free’. Rex and Mae returned with us still giggling somewhat uncontrollably. It was only on reflection that we began to understand that this madcap incident summed up Rex and Mae; they had offered us a lift, made up somewhere for us to sleep, then offered to share their room with a couple that were really just acquaintances. For all they knew, the Red Roof Inn could have ended up like the Bates Motel.
I suppose a friendship forged around a vibrating bed was destined to last. And last it did for over thirty years. Many visits to the UK followed, including in 1986 when Kirsty won Gold medals in the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, just to prove that we hadn’t entirely wasted our time in Florida even though it took a while for that to become evident.
Our house would become a base and Rex and Mae would arrive, disappear, drink exotic British beer in towns we had never visited and then return to tell us all about it. Very occasionally with some of the aforementioned beer….. We loved having them to stay. On one occasion Rex decided he would have a day out. He took a train from Newcastle to Kent, to find a pub where he could drink Spitfire ale near the Shepherd Neame brewery. For those uninitiated in UK geography, this is a trip so long that it would usually involve engaging the services of a travel agent. Rex did it in a day and as I remember returned late in the evening appearing to have had a marvelous time.
As Kirsty’s career developed, Rex and Mae opened their home to her for periods of warm weather training when she needed to escape a British winter. They seemed to take great pleasure in her successes and were the perfect foil when things didn’t go quite so well! Selection for two Olympic Games and success at two World Championships followed and the kindness and support they offered were an integral part of this. They were key links in ‘Team Wade’. By this stage we also had a young family to consider and our visits must have been like some sort of cyclone arriving. Our friendship, like all great friendships do, seemed to seamlessly change from one dynamic to another. Underpinning it all was that indefinable thing which brought us together. We laughed, we shared – I am hearing Rex’s belly laugh guffaw in my head as I write this – and even if we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years, within minutes things would be back to ‘normal’. This is a precious thing and we are privileged to have experienced this in our life.
Visits continued even when we inconveniently moved to an island off the west coast of Scotland, well away from the train network and passable breweries. One of the joys of e-mail was the capacity to keep in touch, even at a distance. Rex would share with me some of the quirky side of the US which I loved – especially for some reason unusual names, particularly sports stars. It was a guilty pleasure that he also began to share with our eldest daughter Rachel.
When you think of the impact that people have on your family, I often look at our children and see us as just the conduits of the influence of the important people in our lives. All our children have a sharp and distinctive humour that has been forged by their and our contact with a few significant individuals. Rex was one of these.
We shared stories, we sang silly songs. Rex taught our children the full version of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer on the way back from a race in Ocala. I bet they can still recite it now. Is there any greater legacy than memories shining with joy?
Rex – we loved you and are so glad that you and Mae were part of our lives.