Family of Olympic Cyclist, 23, Who Died by Suicide Speaks Out: She Was 'Tortured Mentally'
Kelly Catlin died in an apparent suicide in her Stanford University dorm room on Friday
Weeks before her death, 23-year-old Olympic cyclist Kelly Catlin told her sister that she was struggling.
“On the phone she went back and forth from saying she was learning to appreciate things and enjoy life to saying if things didn’t change in a month, she was probably still going to kill herself,” Christine Catlin, 23, tells PEOPLE of her sister. “This was only two weeks ago. I thought we had more time. My last words to her were, ‘Please don’t kill yourself.’ ”
Kelly, who helped the U.S. women’s pursuit team win the silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, died on Friday in her Stanford University dorm room in California. Christine says Kelly’s roommate found her and contacted authorities.
The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE.
A competitive cyclist, Kelly rose to prominence as a member of the U.S. national team and raced for the Rally UHC Pro Cycling Team. She was pursuing a graduate degree in computational mathematics at Stanford at the time of her death.
“When I heard the news I was biking and my mom called me,” Christine recalls of the day her sister died. “We had been worried because [Kelly] hadn’t answered the phone in, like, a week. I was having a really sad feeling about that. When my mom called me I was hyperventilating and crying. I’ve been numb ever since.”
According to the family, Kelly’s mental health struggles began in December after she suffered a concussion during a cycling race. She began having vision problems, severe headaches and was unable to complete workouts with her team, Kelly’s father, Mark Catlin, tells PEOPLE.
“My wife and I talked to her weekly on the phone and she started to express apathy about cycling, which she’d never done before,” Mark says. “She had a lack of enthusiasm for the Olympic team, for training, for everything in life. We were concerned. She ran herself down. The concussion had a profound impact on her. She had these mental issues and she started to feel trapped.”
Kelly attempted to die by suicide in January, but survived and underwent physical and mental health treatment for about two weeks before returning to school. Christine says the attempt came as a shock to the family, noting that Kelly sent a note via email to her close friends and family.
“She wrote that she had been having racing thoughts and her mind wasn’t working the way it used to,” Christine says, adding that she believed Kelly was describing symptoms of the concussion. “She described being tortured mentally by not being able to do what she used to do.”
Mark and Christine say they called Kelly constantly and her mental health seemed to have been improving. Now, the family is struggling to come to terms with Kelly’s death as they make funeral arrangements. Kelly — who is one of a set of triplets — leaves behind her sister and brother, Colin, and her parents, Mark, 66, and Carolyn Emory, 67.
Mark spoke through tears as he remembered his daughter.
“She had such a bright future. She was so multi-talented,” he tells PEOPLE. “There was so much about life that she enjoyed and this was such a temporary setback that she couldn’t see through. It’s such a loss to the world and a loss to her that she’s gonna miss so many good things. She had so much to look forward to. Now it’s not gonna happen.”
USA Cycling chief executive Rob DeMartini called Kelly’s death a “devastating loss” in a statement.
“Kelly was more than an athlete to us, and she will always be part of the USA Cycling family,” DeMartini added.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “home” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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