Kelly Catlin Cause of Death: How Did the Olympian Die?

kelly catlin

Getty Kelly Catlin

Kelly Catlin, an Olympic medalist on the USA Cycling National Team, has passed away at the age of 23.

Her father, Mark Catlin, said that his daughter had taken her own life on March 8, 2019, at her California home. He first confirmed the news to cycling magazine VeloNews on March 10. He told the publication, “There isn’t a minute that goes by that we don’t think of her and think of the wonderful life she could have lived… The hurt is unbelievable.”

The Stanford Daily, without mentioning Catlin’s name, reported on March 8 that a graduate student had been found dead in her dorm room the night before. Her roommate was the one to find her, according to the newspaper.

Kelly Catlin was a fraternal triplet. Her sister, Christine, described Kelly in an email to Heavy: “My sister was a really special person– kind, funny, empathetic, and talented at literally everything she did. She just felt like she couldn’t say no to everything that was asked of her and this was her only escape. She had suffered a concussion a few months ago and had not been the same mentally ever since.”

In a follow-up phone conversation, Christine Catlin further explained how Kelly’s mental state had changed since her injury. “At first it just seemed like physical symptoms. She was sensitive to bright lights, had headaches, had trouble studying and couldn’t train as hard.” Christine said Kelly talked about having “racing thoughts.” She said Kelly believed that the struggles she was having, both physical and mental, were permanent and began to think of suicide as her only way out.

kelly Catlin

Catlin FamilyKelly, Christine and Colin Catlin.

Her brother, Colin, described Kelly as being unstoppable once she decided to pursue something. “Disciplined, strong, and endlessly hard working… There wasn’t anything Kelly couldn’t do. I doubt you have ever met someone who was such a ball of fiery energy. She was strong and cold, austere and terrifying. Yet underneath she was a person who loved fantasy and science-fiction, dragons and cosmic destiny. Her spirit animal was a velociraptor and she ate two or three bags of chocolate chips every week (those 12 oz ones, not something smaller!). She read for hours everyday, all of it to the sound of German industrial metal bands which contrasted sharply with the classical violin she played. I loved her dearly. My entire life was planned around her.”

Colin Catlin also talked about why his family had been willing to be open about Kelly’s cause of death.

“Apparently some of the world is surprised that we would be so open about suicide being her cause of death, but to us that is simply a terrible, unchangeable fact, which no denial could possibly undo. Kelly always had a nihilistic and occasionally morbid sense of humor. It wasn’t until after her series of crashes this winter, which included a broken arm, lots of lost skin, and most importantly a bad concussion, that her morbidity took a more serious turn.

There is a lesson I feel in this for the world. Kelly worked harder than almost anyone you are likely to meet. She could be an Olympian and a full-time straight-A graduate student. We idolize such strength, but in the end it was destructive, burning out when she had not yet even begun to reach her full potential.”

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Here’s what you need to know.

Kelly Catlin Was a World Champion Cyclist

Kelly Catlin won a silver medal with Team USA at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She also won three gold medals at the UCI Track World Championships with her team, three years in a row. As an individual competitor, she earned bronze medals in 2017 and 2018 at the World Track Championships. In addition, she competed on the road for Rally UHC Cycling.

USA Cycling president and CEO, Rob DeMartini, issued the following statement on the organization’s website:

“The U.S. cycling community suffered a devastating loss with the passing of Kelly Catlin, USA Cycling National Team member.

Kelly was more than an athlete to us, and she will always be part of the USA Cycling family.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Catlin family. This is an incredibly difficult time and we want to respect their privacy.

The entire cycling community is mourning this immense loss. We are offering continuous support to Kelly’s teammates, coaches and staff. We also encourage all those who knew Kelly to support each other through the grieving.

We are deeply saddened by Kelly’s passing, and we will all miss her dearly. We hope everyone seeks the support they need through the hard days ahead, and please keep the Catlin family in your thoughts.”

Catlin’s team at Rally UHC Cycling also posted about her sudden death. “The news of Kelly’s passing has hit the team hard. Losing an incredible person at such a young age is very difficult. Kelly was our friend and teammate. Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family and those who were fortunate enough to know her best.”

Catlin Divided Her Time Between Training & Attending Graduate School at Stanford

kelly catlin

GettyAshlee Ankudinoff of Australia, Chloe Dygert of United States, and Kelly Catlin of United States pose with their medals after winning Women’s Individual Pursuit Final on Day 4 in 2017 UCI Track Cycling World Championships at Hong Kong Velodrome on April 15, 2017.

Catlin was originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, where she graduated from Mounds View High School in Arden Hills. Her next stop was the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and Chinese in 2018.

She then took her talents to the west coast, where she enrolled in Stanford. According to her Linkedin profile, Catlin was working toward a master’s in Computational and Mathematical Engineering.

Catlin explained on her Linkedin page that in addition to mathematics and her cycling career, she also enjoyed playing the violin and that all of those components gave her a balanced life. She wrote, “I am a cyclist and a violinist, yet also a student and a volunteer. I try to bring all of my interests together to create a greater whole. Through cycling competitively, I supplement my studies in mathematics with the highly quantitative nature of elite competition. Through violin performance, I am able to enhance my volunteering experiences and better serve Johanna Shores. Through a synthesis of these interests, I aim for a well-balanced life and the opportunity to touch people’s lives.”

Catlin wrote an editorial for VeloNews that was published on February 27, 2019, in which she explained the struggle of balancing her professional athletic career and school.

“Being a graduate student in Computational Mathematics is easy. Being a graduate student while simultaneously competing for the National Team on the track is often more difficult. It’s most difficult when you have to retake a three-hour final exam the moment you step out of the final round of a team pursuit. Being a graduate student, track cyclist, and professional road cyclist can instead feel like I need to time-travel to get everything done. And things still slip through the cracks.

This is probably the point when you’ll expect me to say something cliché like, “Time management is everything.” Or perhaps you’re expecting a nice, encouraging slogan like, “Being a student only makes me a better athlete!” After all, I somehow make everything work, right? Sure. Yeah, that’s somewhat accurate. But the truth is that most of the time, I don’t make everything work. It’s like juggling with knives, but I really am dropping a lot of them. It’s just that most of them hit the floor and not me…

Now I am going to say something cliché: The greatest strength you will ever develop is the ability to recognize your own weaknesses, and to learn to ask for help when you need it. This is a lesson I have only just begun learning, slowly and painfully, these first few months as a graduate student. I still fail. As athletes, we are all socially programmed to be stoic with our pain, to bear our burdens and not complain, even when such stoicism reaches the point of stupidity and those burdens begin to damage us. These are hard habits to break.”

Catlin is survived by her parents, Carolyn Emory and Mark Catlin, and her siblings Christine and Colin. They were fraternal triplets.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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