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Here's a girl who is slowly changing into a lovely woman. She'll emerge one day with a beyond-Candice Bergen look; heads will turn, and she shall have music wherever she goes, as the old nursery rhyme has it. But for now there's only this shabby, off-white dormitory room and a 51-cm Trek bicycle.
Other resident jocks drop in, but "social life?" Twigg says. "Um, our social life is pretty dull." Then she brightens momentarily. "Oh! We play a lot of volleyball!" Uh, but does that really do it? "Well, remember, it's only other athletes living here, and they're all self-centered on what they're doing." Maas agrees. "This is exactly like any college dorm in any college town anywhere—with one exception," she says. "Here, everybody is in bed and sound asleep by nine-thirty every night." Oh, Twigg and Maas and the others might have a beer now and then, particularly following an event like the Coors International Classic, where the beer is free, "but it only takes maybe one beer to get an athlete wasted anyway," Twigg says.
Watching Twigg in action, one realizes that the federation has done it again: It has loosed yet another competitive monster woman upon the land, another new one cast in the mold of Sheila Young-Ochowicz and Sue Novara-Reber, the sprint champions; of road and pursuit champ Connie Carpenter and that sudden road whiz Beth Heiden.
While most of the U.S. was looking elsewhere—bike racing isn't exactly the most feverishly covered of sports in this country—the U.S. had scrambled from 22nd in 1978 to fifth in world competition last year in medals won, behind only East Germany, Russia, West Germany and Holland, and ahead of such traditional powers as France and Italy. France and Italy? And while the men have been gaining, the women have run wild.
By way of a brief history, in 1969 California's Audrey McElmury won the women's road-race gold medal at the world championships in Czechoslovakia, ending a 57-year road competition losing streak for the U.S., a development so unnerving that, naturally, the award ceremonies had to be held up while someone searched out a record of The Star-Spangled Banner. After that came two more losing years, but then, starting in 1972, the titles began rolling in. Through 1981 U.S. women collected 17 more world medals, six of them gold. And in the world championships at Leicester, England last August and September, the U.S. squad pulled in four more, with Connie Paraskevin, 21, and Young-Ochowicz, 32, finishing one and two in the sprints and Twigg and Carpenter, 25, also one-two in the individual pursuit.
This was pretty fast company for a 19-year-old, but Twigg wasn't cowed one bit. Cowed? Here's a kid who used to drag-race automobiles on her way to school in Seattle, churning furiously along the streets aboard a heavy old Huffy bike. "And I'd catch them, too," she says. When she tells about it now, one can see her pulling alongside a speeding car and glancing over at the driver with that impassive look of hers. "It always made the motorists pretty nervous," she says.
To go back even further, to the beginning, Twigg was born in Honolulu. The family moved briefly to Madison, Wis., where Rebecca's sister, Laura, now 19, was born, and then on to Seattle, which Rebecca figures is really her hometown. Her parents split up when the girls were very young, and her mother, Barbara, went back to school to get a degree in sociology. Indeed, there was a time when all three of them were in school, "but it was the girls who were exceptional students," Barbara says. "Laura is an electrical engineering major at the University of Washington. And Rebecca was always entered in some sort of contest, from spelling bees to math and science fairs. She had a keen competitive instinct, I guess. Once she entered a cooking contest, of all things, submitting a cake that a grown-up couldn't have made. She'd seen a picture of it in a magazine. It was supposed to look like a castle. She lost—but, after all, that was in the first grade."
Rebecca shrugs. "Mostly I remember that I was strong," she says. "I was big for my age. I was even fat for a while. But I was a pretty good runner and jumper, and a great arm-wrestler. Once I strolled into the gym at school and saw some weights lying there; I was quite small then, but I lifted the 90-pound one over my head and then I lifted the 100-pound barbell up to my chin. You know," she says, shaking her head gravely at this, "if I'd been born in an Eastern bloc country, I wouldn't be a bike racer now. They'd have made me into a weightlifter."
Twigg was singled out early in school for a program for gifted students. "It was intellectually stimulating," she says. "I had been getting grades in the 80s and 90s, but in the honors group I built them up to 98s and 99s in everything." By the time she was 14, staying in the program would have involved being bused to special classes all over town; math in one school, science here, biology there. "My mom said, 'Why not just go straight into college?' " Rebecca says, "and I said, 'Hey, that's an idea.' "
Happily, Washington agreed. Twigg enrolled for the summer quarter of 1977, so that she could get used to attending classes like an honest-to-God Big Person, and next thing anybody knew, she was a freshie. By the time she was a 15-year-old sophomore, she was working part time at the zoology lab to pick up some money. "I washed the lab dishes and I got to feed all the Manduca sexta, those big green worms they used in the research," she says.