Catlin died Thursday. The cause was suicide, family members said.
"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," her father, Mark Catlin, told VeloNews. "There isn't a second in which we wouldn't freely give our lives in exchange for hers. The hurt is unbelievable."
Catlin was one in a set of triplets; her sister, Christine, wrote in an email to the Washington Post that Catlin 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."
A graduate student at Stanford, Catlin was pursuing a degree in computational and mathematical engineering while training for track cycling as a member of the national team and racing as a professional road cyclist. She also excelled at the violin and as an artist.
"Everything she did, she was the best at when we were little kids," Christine Catlin said in a telephone interview. "Sports, violin, and she casually picked up cycling. We were the Catlins, so we were this force."
Colin Catlin, the third triplet, said he helped push his sister into cycling and that “she didn't really want to, but she started winning things and she likes winning things.” He also helped spur her interest in data science.
“I always saw myself as the planner and she was the doer,” he said in a telephone interview. “I could always see the three of us taking over the world. We were a massive ball of energy, and we supported each other in everything.”
Control was harder to come by for Catlin after crashes late last year in which she broke her arm and sustained a concussion, according to family members.
“She couldn't train as well as she used to,” Christine Catlin said. “She had really bad headaches and was sensitive to light. Then she tried to commit suicide in January.”
After that incident, Kelly Catlin’s family focused on her recovery, and she convinced them she was getting better, according to her siblings.
“Just a week or two ago, we were making plans, and I was optimistic about her future,” Colin Catlin said. “She did have plans for the future, it turned out. Her plans.”
In a recent VeloNews blog post on how she managed so many intense pursuits, Catlin wrote that she sometimes felt as if she needed "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 cliche 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.”
Catlin, who grew up in Arden Hills, Minn., earned undergraduate degrees in biomedical engineering and Chinese from the University of Minnesota. She helped the U.S. team win three consecutive world titles in pursuit between 2016 and 2018. She won bronze in the individual pursuit at the track cycling world championships in 2017 and 2018.
“We are deeply saddened by Kelly's passing,” Rob DeMartini, the president and CEO of USA Cycling, said in a statement. “We will all miss her dearly. Kelly was more than an athlete to us and she will always be part of the USA Cycling family.”
Boren writes for the Washington Post.