Charlotte Catlin, a high school track coach in Texas, was killed by her 13-year-old son as he fled the family’s home. The civil trial will also delve into how concussion has been linked to suicide and brain trauma.
Catlin was a three-time world champion track cyclist and an Olympic silver medalist at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
An Olympic medal-winning cyclist was racing down a winding ribbon of pavement in the coastal mountains around San Francisco in January 2019, descending at the type of scorching pace reserved for vehicles and motorcycles.
Kelly Catlin lost control on a surface that had dried fast following the first rain in weeks.
Her bike slid out from under her and rolled down the mountain, stopping in a cloud of dust. She was propelled forward and slid over the asphalt, crashing many times.
Catlin understood the experienced cyclist’s routine: get up, evaluate the bike, inspect the charred road rash and ripped Lycra, get back up, and continue the trip.
She seemed to be in good spirits. She walked back to her house. She afterwards spoke on the phone with her mother.
Catlin’s mother, Carolyn Emory, told World Service, “She was telling me about it and sort of chuckling.”
“‘Did you check your helmet?’ I inquired. ‘No, it’s all right,’ she said. But as she looked closer, she saw that it had dents on the front and back.”
Catlin got a concussion, which she didn’t realize at the time. She started to have unpleasant and perplexing symptoms soon after. Her behavior and attitude shifted, and she became nervous and unhappy. Her family was concerned since she didn’t seem to be herself.
Catlin committed suicide two months later. She was 23 years old at the time.
Her family’s search for answers has been a long, sad, and complicated one.
They feel, however, that doing so would assist raise awareness about a problem that sport, particularly cycling, has long disregarded.
Catlin, one of three triplets, was a brilliant athlete as a child. She seemed to be destined for success in nearly any sport she pursued. She was a gifted football player, but as injuries forced her to turn to cycling as a method to stay in shape while on the sidelines, there was no turning back.
“It was as though she was born with this need or obsession. Not necessarily to be an Olympic athlete, but to achieve or be excellent at anything “Mark, her father, agrees.
“She was laser-focused on whatever she was working on. Chinese art… She would do all of her school tasks and then some. Cycling was the vehicle through which it was channeled.”
Catlin was a postgraduate computer science student at Stanford University in California at the time of her collision, as well as a three-time world track cycling team pursuit champion and an Olympic silver medalist with the United States.
She was out that day as part of her training with Rally Cycling, one of America’s greatest professional cycling teams. She had no clue how severely her injuries would effect her in the future.
She was still in excruciating agony and anguish weeks later. Doctors’ diagnosis were unable to determine the particular cause of the problem.
Carolyn explains, “She traveled to Germany for a World Cup event, but she couldn’t do it because she was having bad headaches.” “She remained an additional week after the team departed since the airport lights and commotion were too much for her.”
“She went to the Olympic Training Centre (OTC) and had a whole series of scans that didn’t reveal anything,” Mark continues.
“Then everything started to go bad. They prescribed medication for her dizziness, light sensitivity, and headaches. She had to do some eye exercises. They used a variety of monitors, as well as oxygen and blood pressure machines, to prepare her. Something wasn’t quite right.”
At Rio 2016, Catlin, third from left, sits with other Team USA riders.
Catlin tried but failed to commit suicide at the end of January 2019.
“After the first effort, a part of her brain recognized it was too much,” Carolyn adds. “She promised us she wouldn’t try again.”
“However, a few days before she killed herself, she spoke to her sister on the phone and said she was still thinking about it.” ‘If things don’t change in a month…’ she said.
“It was almost as though we were saying our goodbyes.”
Mark continues: “She gave us her word, but I believe she just did so to get out of the hospital. The staff realized that letting her leave wasn’t the correct thing to do, but she was desperate to get out, so she hired a lawyer.”
Catlin was discovered dead in her Stanford residence in March 2019 shortly after her phone chat with her sister, and after a campus health check conducted by Carolyn after a series of unanswered phone calls.
Her father, Mark, feels his daughter would still be alive if her depression and anxiety symptoms had been recognized as indications of post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Catlin had previously had multiple concussions, and this was not her first, but no relationship was found.
If it had, Mark thinks Catlin would have followed the advice to spend three weeks of complete rest, after which PCS symptoms usually subside and people recover. Catlin, on the other hand, had been as active as ever, combining her riding and academics; motivated to succeed, restless and obsessive in her quest of perfection, just like she had always been.
Catlin’s family believes that the symptoms she was having, along with her complex nature, were too much for her; a lady whose quest for perfection was centered on reaching her full potential.
Her journals eventually showed, according to the Washington Post, that she lived by a series of rules, one of which was “I do not weep.”
Elite sport is sometimes regarded as the apex of human achievement. With it comes the belief that an athlete can never be too committed to their goal of greatness, and that practice makes perfect. In the same manner, we think of their tenacity or stoicism. Many champions have a “let’s do it again” mentality.
Catlin mentioned this in a blog post on the website VeloNews, which she wrote shortly before her death in late February 2019.
“As athletes, we are all socially conditioned to be stoic in the face of suffering, to carry our responsibilities and not complain, even when such stoicism reaches the point of folly and our burdens begin to harm us,” she wrote. These are difficult to break habits.
“The fact is that I don’t always succeed in making things work. It’s like juggling knives, only I’m dropping a lot of them. It’s simply that the majority of them fell to the ground, but not me.”
In the athletic world, brain damage is still little understood. Only recently has the degenerative disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and its ties to repetitive impacts to the brain and/or concussion been more well recognized.
Headway, a UK charity, has played a key role in creating treatments to reduce the hazards that athletes face, as well as advocating for a better understanding of post-concussion syndrome.
Because, unlike CTE, which develops later in life and has symptoms that are comparable to Alzheimer’s disease and can only be completely identified post-mortem, PCS occurs within weeks or months after a concussion.
‘If in doubt, sit it out,’ says one of Headway’s promotional slogans. The reality of riding is often found far away from that message.
Following an accident in road cycling, a rider must rapidly get back on their bike to avoid losing contact with the peloton and violating a time restriction, which would result in elimination.
Last year’s men’s road cycling season had three high-profile concussions, one at each of the three Grand Tour competitions. The most alarming incident occurred on stage 13 of the 2020 Tour de France, when Frenchman Romain Bardet crashed.
He was in contention for the race’s lead when he crashed, but as he was hauled to his feet, he was plainly disoriented, and his legs gave out, and he slumped. He was back on his bike in about a minute. He completed the 192km stage before it was discovered he had not only suffered a concussion, but also a brain bleed.
Several of Catlin’s USA Cycling teammates, including 2020 global time trial champion Chloe Dygert and US time trial champion Carmen Small, have expressed worry about concussions they have had throughout their careers on the track.
Small has said, “All athletes want to keep pushing when they should definitely quit.” “I’m still suffering from headaches. I was never diagnosed, but I recall sitting in a dark room for four days and feeling vertigo for six weeks.”
Since Catlin’s death, USA Cycling has introduced a wellness program as well as “several strategic efforts focused at shifting the narrative surrounding mental health.”
Catlin’s brain was given to the Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank at Boston University by her family.
Other early signals of development may be seen.
Following a July report from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the UK government revealed fresh proposals on Friday to build protocolsexternal-link surrounding concussion in sport.
The UCI, cycling’s governing body, has implemented additional procedures to safeguard competitors’ safety after head injuries. Team members will be taught to recognize the indications of concussion, keep track of every event in a central database, and adhere to a strict recovery and return-to-competition timeline.
And at this year’s Paris-Nice, Britain’s 2020 Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart was forced to withdraw from the race because his team, Ineos Grenadiers, chose prudence, a decision that was universally applauded.
Catlin’s brain was given to the Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank at Boston University after her death to facilitate future study into the consequences of concussion.
Her father, Mark, suggested four likely causes in a statement made at the same time: personality, stress, overtraining, and concussion.
“Kelly was such a complicated and secretive character – one who held a lot of emotions within and maintained a facade of: ‘I’m an iron lady,’” Mark adds.
“She would probably not divulge her emotional or psychical state to anybody.” She continued to push herself when she shouldn’t have. It all added up to her being a really powerful lady who was knocked down by the mix.
“It’s as if a piece of ourselves has been ripped away from us.” Every morning, I’m in a state of shock that she’s gone. Every night when I wake up, I think to myself, ‘If only I’d done this…’
“We don’t want any other athletes to go through this,” Carolyn says. We simply want to find the correct program to assist people before it’s too late, barring Kelly’s return.
“All I want is for her to be here.”
Delyth Lloyd interviewed Mark Catlin and Carolyn Emory for World Service.
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