By Thomas Garcia, Freedom New Mexico
Editor’s note: Freedom New Mexico is doing a series of stories on Olympians with ties to eastern New Mexico.
The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City was just another place to run for Rex Maddaford.
“It is an amazing experience and many get taken in by the whole idea of being at the Olympics,” the manager of the Tucumcari Golf Course said on Thursday. “In all honesty I knew what I was there to do and what I expected of myself.”
Maddaford competed in two Olympic events in 1968. He was 10th in the 5,000 meters (14:39.8) and 12th in the 10,000 meters (30:17.2) for his native New Zealand.
Here are some of Maddaford’s memories from his Olympic days and beyond:
Race day jitters:
Maddaford said he was afraid of hitting an “oxygen wall” in Mexico City. “When you’re out of air, that is it; you don’t go any further.”
He said he did not run to his potential in the Olympics and it was all psychological. He said running at 7,400 feet above sea level can take some adjusting when you’re used to running at sea level.
“At the end of the races I found that I had a lot more run in me. I was just afraid to push it to the wall before then.”
Speaking down under:
Maddaford, who is from New Zealand, was recruited by Eastern New Mexico University cross country coach Bill Silverberg while competing in Los Angeles as a member of the British Commonwealth.
“Bill was not even there to recruit me. We spoke over the next 10 months and I realized it was time to settle down and get an education.”
Maddaford said while at ENMU he helped the Greyhounds win national titles. “I did a lot of good things while at ENMU, like meeting my wife Jeannette.”
Maddaford married Jeannette in 1973 and graduated from ENMU in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in communication and physical education.
Maddaford said his love of running began when he was 13 and living in Auckland, New Zealand.
Maddaford said a lot of inspiration came from two New Zealand natives, who won gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
“That started a frenzy back home and before I knew it I was running in my first track meet.”
Maddaford said he finished last in the 200 meters, third in the 400 meters and first in the half-mile in his first track meet.
He soon grew serious about running.
“One hundred miles a week — that is what I ran from 14 years old until I was 28,” he said.
Maddaford said he started competing in cross country running in high school and set many junior records.
“When I turned 19, I entered the senior rankings and everybody was wondering how I was going to do. I won the cross country championships that year and set a New Zealand record for the 6-mile run at 27 minutes 22 seconds. I think I did all right.”
Dealing with fame:
Maddaford said while he was traveling to visit his family in New Zealand a few months ago he began talking to the gentleman sitting next to him on the plane. The man knew who he was.
“I was telling this man about my life and he stopped me mid-sentence and said, ‘You’re Rex Maddaford.’ To think all these years later … someone still remembers me.”
Maddaford said when he was returning to the U.S. he showed his passport to a lady working at customs and she replied, “That is a name that I have not read in quite some time.”
Maddaford said being recognized by someone because of an accomplishment is great.
“All that I did was for the love of competition, seeing the world. It was never about money. I never got paid for winning races. I ran for the enjoyment.”
Maddaford was a teacher with the Tucumcari Municipal Schools for 31 years before retiring in 2007.
“Jeannette and I moved here in 1975 and this has been home ever since.”