Rebecca Twigg, sitting at a wobbly little black table in a Colorado Springs Starbucks, pulls down the neck of her sweatshirt and leans toward you. "Feel," she says.
Relax. This woman you don't misinterpret. Twigg, a computer programmer, has already shot her bright, pale-amber gaze right through your retinas, inspected your neurocircuitry and rightly decided her topic must be the Power of Mind. "I don't know if people really know what positive attitude is," she says, as you tentatively move your hand toward the base of her neck. "I broke my collarbone just before the world championships last September. I was doing laps at the bottom of the velodrome here, and I didn't think anyone else was on the track."
But Craig Griffin, one of the U.S. coaches, was on the track drilling one of her teammates. "I looked up at the last second," says Twigg, closing her eyes and remembering again the crash that snapped her right clavicle. "I could have cried and gotten lawyers, but the thing to do was forge ahead."
How do you forge anywhere on a racing bike if your collarbone can't bear weight? She guides your fingertip to what feels like a ruler's edge running horizontally under the translucent skin of her upper chest. Her surgeon used a titanium plate and seven screws to hold the pieces of her clavicle together. "Good he put this plate in," she says. "Aside from it giving me some structural stability, he found bone chips around an artery."
Eleven days later she was ready to race. Never mind that the worlds were in 8,500-foot-high Bogota, Colombia. "The higher the altitude, the less wind drag, so the faster you can go," she says briskly.
But wait. Altitude subtracts oxygen. And the 3,000-meter individual pursuit takes almost four minutes. Doesn't she have to breathe? "Of course I do," she says, "but I was altitude-trained from Colorado."
Didn't she catch a terrible cold just before the worlds? "Yeah, yeah. It felt like that was even worse than the fracture," she says.
And didn't she watch two of her opponents break her world record of 3:37.347 in the prelims while she felt sluggish in the first round? "O.K., I grant you, I really had no reasonable expectation to do well."
Her positive thinking is quite beyond reason. Feeling, she says, "not completely drained" after her semifinal, she resolved to spend herself completely in the final. Which is all the 3,000-meter individual pursuit ever asks.
Twigg calls her defining event, in which she had been five times the world champion, "an absolutely pure race" because the cyclists compete in pairs and start on opposite sides of the track. It is therefore free of pack or sprint cycling's damnable drafting and hurry-up-and-wait Alphonse-and-Gaston tactics. "The pursuit requires you to go as fast as you can without blowing up," says Twigg. "You have to set a pace. And you have to hold it." When the cyclist is holding on at 30 mph over the last searing laps, the true pursuit is all inward, all alone, all trust in one's unrelenting soul.