GREG LEMOND vividly recalls the last, breathtaking sprint of the 1989 Tour de France, the one that left French cyclist and race leader Laurent Fignon in the Parisian dust and earned the 28-year-old LeMond his second Tour crown. "I didn't think," he said afterward. "I just rode." By not thinking, the American, during an almost spiritual 26 minutes and 57 seconds, had engineered one of the most memorable moments in recent sports history: He had overcome Fignon's seemingly insurmountable 50-second lead and won the grueling 23-day, 2,542-mile race by eight seconds, the narrowest margin in the event's 86-year history. The fact that LeMond hadn't won a major contest since suffering a near-fatal gunshot wound while hunting in 1987 made his feat all the more amazing. How did he do it? "I never stopped believing I could do it," he said, making believers of us all.
FRANCIS COLLINS AND LAP-CHEE TSUI, both 39, knew that the odds were astronomical. To find the single gene that causes cystic fibrosis among the thousands in a single chromosome was a dream that tantalized many scientists but was regarded as hopelessly quixotic by others. Indeed, during their 4½-year search for the elusive gene, Collins admits that at times he considered shelving the project. Fortunately, Collins, from the University of Michigan Medical Center, and Tsui, of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, persevered, and in August the two research scientists isolated the deadly and highly camouflaged gene. Their work offers hope to some 12 million Americans who unknowingly carry the disease (which is passed on only if both parents are carriers) and to 30,000 Americans already afflicted. Drug therapy and gene replacement are now possible. And with money, luck and more research, says Collins, "this may lead to a treatment that will save kids alive today who have CF."
MARK WELLMAN doesn't consider himself disabled even though a 50-foot fall during a 1982 rock climb cost him the use of his legs. "My whole thing," says the 29-year-old park ranger, "whether it's kayaking, skiing or rock climbing, is finding another way." Last July, the other way Wellman found took him 3,569 feet up the sheer granite face of El Capitan in California's Yosemite Valley. After months of swimming and weight lifting, Well-man left his wheelchair behind and, with an occasional lift from fellow climber Michael Corbett (right), pulled and hauled himself to the top, a feat he likened to doing 7,000 pull-ups. Despite blistering heat and winds that sometimes blew the pair 10 feet out from the rock, they completed their ascent in seven days—a double conquest of El Capitan and of presumed limitations of the human body.
CARRIE MAE DIXON defied the stereotype. One of 14 children, she was orphaned at 6 and shuffled between relatives for years afterward. When she became the single mother of daughter Terresha in September 1987, she was 16, a sophomore at Houston's Jack Yates High School and, one might think, well on her way to dropping out and going on welfare. She did neither. "Dropping out just wasn't an option," Dixon says. "School was always the highlight of my life." And she was a highlight at her school: When she graduated last June, three months before the birth of her second child, Carrie Mae had a four-year grade point average of 4.59 out of a possible 4.6 and had been elected class valedictorian. She also won a scholarship to the University of Houston, where she is now studying chemical engineering. "To me, it's not a big deal," says Dixon of her success. "When I look at me, I don't see anything extraordinary."
THE JOURNALISTS OF COLOMBIA function under a state of war—the war on drugs. Since August, when the Medellín drug cartel launched its "all-out war against the journalists who have attacked and insulted us," 10 news people have been killed and threats have become commonplace. In September a dynamite bomb exploded outside the offices of El Espectador (left), the nation's oldest paper. Yet within hours, the staff, helped by rival journalists, had an edition on the street. "Our position has grown stronger since the bombing," said managing editor Pablo Torres, "because drug trafficking is a curse on humanity, destroying our country." By fighting that curse, Colombia's journalists gave the world hope.
CONGRESSMAN MICKEY LELAND, who emerged from Houston's poverty-stricken Fifth Ward to become one of the most admired men in Congress, was a gadfly on Capitol Hill. He berated TV executives for the medium's lack of blacks and tried to bridge the gap between blacks and Jews. But the 44-year-old Texas Democrat will be best remembered for his work against world hunger—in 1985 he helped raise $800 million for African famine relief—and for his death. In August a small plane carrying him to an Ethiopian refugee camp crashed into a mountain, killing all on board. Said Texas State Rep. Al Edwards: "Millions of would-be-starving children won't be starving anymore because of Mickey Leland."
RUTHIE AND VERENA CADY, conjoined twins who share one heart and liver, were not expected to live more than a few months after their birth. Surviving, they faced the pain of being regarded as curiosities or even freaks. Their parents, Marlene and Peter Cady of Providence, refused to let that happen. They put their little girls in preschool with other children and taught them to bike. Now 5, Ruthie and Verena are bright, loving little girls who go to kindergarten, take gymnastic classes at the YMCA—where they have learned to walk the balance beam—and they tussle with their older sister, Maria. The twins' personalities are distinct: Verena is the chatterbox; Ruthie, who tends to be naughty, likes to paint. Their aplomb in the face of their physical problems is remarkable. So is the acceptance and spirit of their parents, whose love is an affirmation of the sanctity of the individual and of life. "People came upto us and said, 'Oh, how tragic, how tragic,' " says Marlene Cady. "I always tell people the only tragedy is in their interpretation of the girls' situation, because obviously Ruthie and Verena are happy kids."
TAUREAN BLACQUE didn't have to get involved that way. Three years ago, when he was approached about heading a campaign to adopt hard-to-place children, he had the sweet life: a major role in Hill Street Blues, a house in the Hollywood Hills, a half-dozen cars. He could have made a few speeches and left it at that, but Blacque refused to participate unless he could adopt a child himself. Now the divorced father of two grown children has nine adopted kids, including two boys who had spent almost their entire lives in foster homes and a child of a drug addict. Blacque rents the house next door to lodge them all. Says the onetime mailman: "I had to give something back, to share something."
THE CENTRAL PARK JOGGER came by her pseudonym in a dreadful way: She was the victim of a savage beating and rape, and the media declined to divulge her name. Nonetheless, her singularly shocking story made her a faceless national figure and, eventually, a heroine. A Wall Street investment banker who tutored prison inmates and worked with the homeless in her college days, she was attacked, while jogging in New York City's Central Park one night last April, by a half-dozen "wilding" youths. They gang-raped the 100-lb. 28-year-old, pummeled her about her head with stones and a pipe to silence her screams and left her for dead. The crime was all the more terrifying because of the age of the alleged assailants: Two were 14, three 15, one 16. "It was fun," one of them told police. Their victim lay in a coma for 13 days. Doctors doubted she would recover her full mental capacities. Friends spoke of her in the past tense, as if in mourning, recalling how the Jogger ignored warnings not to go into the park at night. "I don't think she could imagine anyone being vicious," said one friend. Then, in what doctors called a miracle, the Jogger began to recover. In November she returned to her job. She still suffered double vision and dizziness, but her spirit was as strong as ever. "Right now, she's unbelievably lovely," said an aunt. "She has no animosity and just wants her life to get back to normal." Befitting one who refused to let ugliness draw the parameters of her life, she has gone back to another old love: She has resumed running.