Plum athlete inspired others through cancer battle

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Outstanding and humble are the two words Joe Ionta uses to describe Rachel Twigg, who was a member of both the Plum Mustangs cross country and track and field squads.

Twigg, 25, died Feb. 26 after a four-and-a-half-year battle with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

“It was never a woe-is-me type situation,” said Ionta, Plum cross country and track and field head coach.

“She always was positive and was still looking to help others. That is something I will always remember.”

Twigg was a standout student at Plum High School, but her skills weren't limited to the classroom.

Her talents for distance running earned her accolades on both the Mustangs cross country and track and field squads.

In the fall of her sophomore season, she became the highest-placing Plum runner ever at WPIALs by placing 23rd, and she qualified for states for the first time.

At the PIAA meet, she took 61st overall, also the best-ever finish for a Plum competitor at states.

Since she graduated, other Plum runners have placed higher at WPIALs, but her 2002 state finish still stands as the highest ever.

She took 28th at WPIALs in 2003 and made a return trip to states.

“Rachel probably was one of the best female distance runners Plum has ever had,” Ionta said.

Twigg made waves both individually and in relays during distance races in the outdoor track season.

She set the girls school record in the 3,200-meter run in 2002, and that record still stands.

Twigg also owned three WPIAL medals, as she helped the 3,200 relay take seventh at the 2002 championships. At the same meet, she placed seventh in the 3,200 run and set the school record.

In 2003, the quartet placed seventh again in the same race. That 2003 distance relay included close friend and fellow 2005 Plum graduate Jess Youra.

Youra drove to Plum from her home just outside Washington, D.C., last week to attend Twigg's viewing and Saturday's memorial service.

“She was so positive all the time. If she said one negative thing, she would cover it by saying five positive things,” Youra said.

Ionta recalled how Twigg always had time to share her running talents and leadership skills with other members of the cross-country and track-and-field teams.

Twigg, along with cancer survivor Victor Flinko, 14, served as grand marshals for the third annual Stampede in the Park event at Boyce Park in 2009. Twigg and Victor also served as grand marshals in 2011.

“She was a great girl, a talented athlete and smart,” Plum Mayor Richard Hrivnak said.

At the viewing last week, about 40 medals she won were on display, and the service was tough on her friends and family.

“The service was tough and hard to get through,” Youra said. “Her dad talked a lot about a lot of the fun she had throughout her life. (At the post-service luncheon), we told funny stories and shared great memories of Rachel. We definitely had some fun times. She definitely touched the lives of a lot of people.”

Michael Love and Karen Zapf are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Michael can be reached at 412-388-5825 or Karen can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or

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