Games Project Homeless

What an Olympic medalist, homeless in Seattle, wants you to know

What an Olympic medalist, homeless in Seattle, wants you to know

When Rebecca Twigg was 7, she rode a motorcycle for the primary time. There have been no coaching wheels, however Twigg took off like she’d finished it in a earlier life. She fell solely when she realized she didn’t know how you can cease, and steered right into a wall.

“I took to the street like I used to be born to do it,” Twigg says immediately. “Apart from the little half about stopping. I’m not an excellent planner.”

The Seattle-raised athlete went on to grow to be some of the well-known American cyclists within the ’80s and ’90s, profitable six world championships and medaling in two Olympics. She appeared on biking journal covers, in sponsor advertisements and in options in Sports activities Illustrated and Vainness Truthful.

The Seattle Occasions’ Challenge Homeless is funded by BECU, The Invoice & Melinda Gates Basis, Campion Basis, the Paul G. Allen Household Basis, Raikes Basis, Schultz Household Basis, Seattle Basis, Seattle Mariners, Starbucks and the College of Washington. The Seattle Occasions maintains editorial management over Venture Homeless content material.

However then, in 1996, she left the group abruptly in the course of the Olympics and the subsequent yr, retired from biking. She re-entered the workforce. It didn’t work out.

“When you’ve accomplished one thing that feels such as you’re born to do it, it’s onerous to seek out something that’s that good of a match,” Twigg says immediately. “Anything that feels that means.”

Rebecca Twigg flashes a winning smile after capturing the gold medal in pursuit racing at Marymoor Park in the 1986 National Finals. (Jimi Lott / Seattle Times archives)Rebecca Twigg flashes a winning smile after capturing the gold medal in pursuit racing at Marymoor Park in the 1986 National Finals. (Jimi Lott / Seattle Times archives)

Rebecca Twigg flashes a profitable smile after capturing the gold medal in pursuit racing at Marymoor Park within the 1986 Nationwide Finals. (Jimi Lott / Seattle Occasions archives)

Rebecca Twigg has now been with no house for nearly 5 years in Seattle, dwelling first with family and friends, then in her automotive, then in homeless shelters after which, for an evening, beneath rubbish luggage on the road downtown. She hasn’t had a motorcycle for years, and nobody acknowledges her anymore, she says.

Twigg, 56, agreed to share her story to persuade the general public that not all homeless individuals are hooked on medicine or alcohol; that there are numerous like her, who’ve struggled with employment and are “confused,” as she stated she is, about what to do subsequent with their lives. She didn’t need to talk about psychological well being however feels it must be handled extra critically in Washington.

“A number of the exhausting days are actually painful if you’re coaching for racing,” Twigg stated, “however being homeless, when you could have little hope or information of the place the end line goes to be, is simply as arduous.”

On a current morning, Twigg walked into Mary’s Place Ladies’s Day Middle in downtown Seattle. She used to return right here incessantly after leaving considered one of quite a lot of night time shelters. A lot of ladies are right here, taking showers or doing laundry, serving to to wash. Speaking with them is best than “getting misplaced in my very own ideas,” she says.

Hedwight Amoda, director on the middle, walks up.

“I haven’t seen you in a minute! The place are you?” Amoda asks.

“On the lounge flooring,” Twigg says, smiling. “On a mat.” She’s been staying with family members within the space the previous few weeks whereas she recovers from a nasty flu. Her fast household within the Seattle space, together with her 18-year-old daughter, declined interviews for this story.

“When you’ve carried out one thing that feels such as you’re born to do it, it’s arduous to seek out something that’s that good of a match.”

Amoda was struck, quickly after assembly Twigg in 2017, by how clever she was, how match she appeared in sports activities garments and the way late she stayed to wash after the day middle closed. When Amoda discovered who Twigg was, she was stunned that this lady, considered America’s greatest bike owner when she give up in 1997, is homeless in the present day.

“I’m nonetheless confused, however I’m figuring it out,” Twigg tells Amoda.

“I sort of misplaced my residence base”

Twigg was a nonetheless a toddler when she turned homeless.

A prodigy in teachers and athletics, she began at UW on the age of 14, competing in biking that very same yr and medaling in nationwide races virtually immediately. Right now, she was dwelling in Seattle in a basement together with her mom and sister.

Twigg’s sister says their mother kicked Twigg out; Twigg remembers being provided the choice to go away and taking it. She was a couple of months from turning 16. She rode her bike to the previous downtown Greyhound station, stayed up all night time, and slept a couple of hours within the UW Library the subsequent morning earlier than calling her group chief and crashing at his home. The subsequent years — as Twigg turned a biking star — have been transient. She went from pals’ homes to inns on the street whereas racing.

“I type of misplaced my house base as a result of I traveled a lot,” Twigg stated.

She was noticed at 17 by well-known biking coach Eddie Borysewicz. After she gained the world championship, he invited her to stay within the Olympic Coaching Middle in Colorado Springs and practice for the 1984 Olympic Video games, the place for the primary time, ladies can be competing on bicycles.

People dominated the Olympics that yr. Twigg gained a silver medal, lacking gold by a number of inches to well-known racer Connie Carpenter. She continued on her approach up over the subsequent a number of years, setting world data, profitable world titles, and racing greater than 60 occasions a yr. She turned recognized for her competitors in particular person pursuit, the place two cyclists begin on the similar time on reverse sides of the monitor and every tries to catch the opposite. She’s nonetheless among the many most-decorated athletes in pursuit.

Rebecca Twigg, competing in a run-up race to the 1984 Olympics, was successful while competing internationally in both road racing and track cycling.  (Harley Soltes / Seattle Times archives)Rebecca Twigg, competing in a run-up race to the 1984 Olympics, was successful while competing internationally in both road racing and track cycling.  (Harley Soltes / Seattle Times archives)

Rebecca Twigg, competing in a run-up race to the 1984 Olympics, was profitable whereas competing internationally in each street racing and monitor biking. (Harley Soltes / Seattle Occasions archives)

However the breakneck tempo couldn’t proceed endlessly. She was married and shortly after divorced. She crashed in Texas, broke her thumb and received 13 stitches in her head. The next yr she felt burned out. She took a break at age 26, and that yr she grew a whole inch, probably as a result of her physique not needed to expend a lot power coaching.

Twigg received an affiliate diploma in pc science and have become a programmer for a seaweed-products firm in San Diego.

Twigg says the profession wasn’t an ideal match. She give up and began coaching for the 1992 Olympic Video games, profitable a bronze medal within the three,000-meter pursuit after solely 9 months of coaching. As she entered her 30s, she turned considered one of the best American feminine bike owner.

The break together with her profession got here in July 1996, on the Olympic Video games in Atlanta. After a disappointing begin to the Video games, she left, saying the U.S. Biking Federation was pressuring everybody to recreate the success of 1984. She raced in 1997, however positioned eighth on the earth championships. She retired for good.

From a motorcycle to a desk

Twigg went again to desk jobs in IT, then again to high school for therapeutic massage remedy. It didn’t pay sufficient, and she or he was provided one other tech job. She married once more, and had a daughter.

It was a far cry from profitable medals for Twigg, and past that, she stated the solitary nature of programming troubled her. She’d been pleasant however introverted for a lot of her time touring, based on fellow bike owner Inga Thompson, who traveled and competed alongside her for years.

Getting into the workforce is tough for anybody that’s been a well-known athlete, however it may be particularly exhausting for celebrity cyclists like Twigg, Thompson stated.

“As a racer, you’re used to having a schedule sort of rotate round you,” Thompson stated, “as a result of you’ll be able to’t overtrain, you don’t need to under-train, and also you’re capable of say ‘I’m not doing that right now, I’m doing this at this time.’ And Rebecca, being so extremely educated, and extremely attuned, had the leeway of creating these calls.”

Thompson herself has prevented working at a desk. At present, she owns a cattle ranch in Oregon, the place she’s her personal boss. Thompson jokes she’s “unemployable.”

“What (Twigg) has is a superb trait,” Thompson stated. “Until you get into the workforce.”

Twigg would take unspecified quantities of day without work and typically be unreachable. As soon as, when she didn’t present as much as work for 4 days, her co-workers referred to as the police for a welfare verify, based on a member of the family.

Typically there have been miscommunications. When Twigg obtained again to the workplace after the welfare examine, her desk telephone didn’t work. Scared she was about to be fired, Twigg give up. She later discovered they hadn’t deliberate on firing her.

Twigg didn’t have a lot cash to fall again on. Even with sponsorships, on the peak of her success, Twigg says she didn’t make greater than $50,000 a yr.

Twigg stated nervousness inhibited her job search. She would apply and get an e-mail about an interview, however she wouldn’t reply. She began experiencing unusual sensations in her head and physique, however docs didn’t have any solutions. She stated she has thought-about suicide, however is satisfied issues don’t get higher on “the opposite aspect.”

5 years in the past, Twigg was fired from an IT help job and moved again to Seattle, however this time didn’t even apply for jobs. She was 50, and felt the job postings in pc science have been aimed toward new school graduates.

She went from dwelling with kin to dwelling in her automotive, letting her then-14-year-old daughter stick with family members. Driving her bike not made sense to her, virtually; she acquired sweaty if it was heat, or moist if it was raining, and staying clear and dry is tough whenever you’re homeless.

She gave away her bike, her biking taking a again seat to surviving. She began strolling all over the place, slowly, to preserve power.

“I simply had my head actually combined up”

I felt at one time that I couldn’t settle for housing as a result of there have been all these different individuals who want it.”

Twigg compares homelessness to touring with no finish to your journey. “You possibly can by no means go house to relaxation,” Twigg stated. She moved from her automotive to ladies’s and coed shelters in Seattle, and the tempo of life there, too, was sluggish.

“There are some shelters the place it’s like a bus station. You’re simply observing another person — it’s so boring.” However she says shelters stored her alive; immediately, this former Olympian is hassled off sidewalks by safety guards, and struggles to discover a place the place she will merely stand round.

In February, in the course of the large snowstorm, she noticed individuals sleeping on the streets and felt dangerous that she had a heat mattress in a shelter. There’s an odd “live performance mentality” whenever you’re homeless, Twigg stated, the place it may be arduous to separate your self from the gang. Her guilt and a way that she had “unfair benefits” in life haven’t gone away.

Rebecca Twigg, an Olympian and world champion cyclist in the ’80s and ’90s, has been homeless in Seattle for the past five years. She’s found comfort and support in communities like the Women’s Day Center at Mary’s Place. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)Rebecca Twigg, an Olympian and world champion cyclist in the ’80s and ’90s, has been homeless in Seattle for the past five years. She’s found comfort and support in communities like the Women’s Day Center at Mary’s Place. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Times)

Rebecca Twigg, an Olympian and world champion bike owner within the ’80s and ’90s, has been homeless in Seattle for the previous 5 years. She’s discovered consolation and help in communities just like the Ladies’s Day Middle at Mary’s Place. (Bettina Hansen / The Seattle Occasions)

“I felt at one time that I couldn’t settle for housing as a result of there have been all these different individuals who want it,” Twigg stated.

She determined to sleep outdoors, even when only for an evening. She left the shelters, purchased some rubbish luggage and received a skinny blanket, and lay down on a sidewalk downtown, pulling one bag over her legs and one bag over her head.

“I used to be shivering, partly from worry, and partly from chilly,” Twigg stated. “I had this sense of not likely belonging anyplace. I simply had my head actually combined up, completely confused about what I ought to be doing.”

At 5 a.m., a safety guard woke her up. Her blanket was moist. She went to a shelter that may let her in, and slept for half an hour sitting up. She knew she couldn’t spend one other night time outdoors.

In March, as her 56th birthday approached, she received the flu and needed to go to the hospital. From there, she persuaded a relative to take her in once more so she might convalesce.

From her personal expertise, Twigg thinks the reply is constructing extra reasonably priced housing.

“Shelters are nice, however there needs to be a subsequent step,” Twigg stated. She nonetheless gained’t settle for housing for herself, even when assist is obtainable by individuals who’ve came upon about her state; her homelessness was talked about in a biking journal final month.

“The purpose shouldn’t be a lot that I need assistance, it’s that there are a bunch of people that need assistance — 12,000 on this space, half one million within the nation,” Twigg stated. “Assist ought to be offered for everyone, not just some.”

Even when they’re Olympians.

Seattle Occasions reporter Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.