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Editor’s note: Olympic silver medalist and three-time world champion Kelly Catlin died unexpectedly March 8. In this column, her teammate on the U.S. team pursuit track squad, Chloé Dygert, remembers the 23-year-old.
Kelly Catlin, the one and only. One of the most unique souls in the most beautiful way. I knew from the minute I met her that I wanted to be her best friend. Here are a few of my memories of her that I think help show who she was beyond the velodrome where we raced and trained together.
When I think of Kelly, I have distinct memories of the little things she did and how she did them, things that I could talk about with other people who knew her. There would be no hesitation or argument. They would agree. Kelly never changed her personality for anybody. She was herself at all times. That’s what made her so special. She hated hugs, never wanted to be touched. But every so often, those special moments when you didn’t have to force her to hug you, she would let you in and give you a quick little hug. I treasured those moments even if they only were a few times a year — if that.
You never saw Kelly without her blacked-out lenses. She developed the nickname of Roy Orbison. It didn’t matter how dark the track was, how dark it was outside, Kelly always had the dark black sunglasses. Before the Olympics, we had just gotten our Felt Superbikes and were fresh out of the wind tunnel. We all had custom pieces and bolts for our temporary set-up until we made proper permanent parts. We were at the track in Colorado Springs and Andy [Sparks, team coach] was motorpacing Kelly and they were flying! Kelly had hit a bump and knocked a bolt loose in her aero bars, causing her to flip over the bike. Going well over 60kph. She flew up the track in turn two. Everyone freaked out and we all run over to check on her. No joke, the first thing out of her mouth: “Are my glasses okay?” There was never a dull moment with Kelly.
A few months before this crash, I had a crash of my own, and Kelly was there with me while I was taking the concussion test with Sports Med at the training center. So when Kelly arrived in Sports Med to take her concussion test, Kelly being Kelly, remembered the answers from when I took the test months ago. It was as if they didn’t even need to ask the questions, as she had the whole test basically memorized. (She was fine by the way, just scratched up.)
Training in Chula Vista, California before Rio, Kelly always wore gloves, long-fingered gloves. It could’ve been over 100 degrees outside and Kelly would have her long-fingered gloves on. Now she was a very fair-complected person, always had sunscreen on. But she never thought with her gloves she would need to put the sunscreen on her hands. After a few days of riding in the California sun, we noticed hundreds of bright red dots develop all over Kelly’s hands. After some brainstorming, we realized it was from the many vent holes in her gloves. It was a very funny sight to see, pale arms with some polka dot hands. She then began to put sunscreen on her hands as well.
Rooming with Kelly was quite the experience. I can play over in my head most of her routines. Every morning when her alarm went off, she never got up quietly, slowly moving the covers off the body and climbing out of bed. No, it was a swift flip out of bed and into the bathroom. When Kelly would brush her teeth, she would put the toothpaste on and sit in bed for about 30 minutes, reading a book on her little ebook and every so often moving the toothbrush around on her teeth.
Now I’ve never in my life seen someone drink as much water as Kelly. She always had a water bottle with her. She had a very distinct way of drinking, the motion and sound were memorable. I knew it was her even with my eyes shut. It was a quick pop to open the mouthpiece, a quick squeeze and stream of water, and a big smack with her hand to snap the mouthpiece back down.
Living in the dorm rooms at the Olympic Training Center meant we had shared dorm bathrooms. There would be times I would go into the bathroom and one of the sinks would be covered in black grease. My instant thought was, what kind of experiment was Kelly doing today? I would go knock on Kelly’s door to see what she’s up to, noticing her washcloths and hand towels were stained black too. It was just chain-cleaning day. For the amount of grease that I saw, it was as if she had washed 50 chains. You might not realize this, but we were not allowed to wear our USAC white socks unless it was race day. That was probably a good thing for Kelly because she had chainring marks on her legs and socks and clothes and sheets and the carpet and her helmets and the shoes. You name it, anything that she owned probably had grease stains on it.
Every so often, Kelly would crack a joke, one that would take you by surprise. All you could do is just roll over in laughter. Her facial expressions, the rise in her eyebrow. She would turn on a dime and walk away, wordlessly saying, “This conversation is over. I’m leaving now.”
Kelly was also a very independent person. While traveling, once we arrived at the airport, checked our bags and made it through security, we never saw Kelly again until we got to our gate. Same with arriving at our destination. Though Kelly always picked the very back of the plane, once she was off, she bolted for the baggage claim/customs and somehow always managed to beat us all. On the rare times when we made Kelly stay with us, she was “half-wheeling” us the whole time, and you could see her looking back from the corner of her eye, checking to see if we were still paying attention to her, as she was planning her escape to get to the gate first and alone!
Kelly really came out of her shell over the years. She became someone very special, someone that everyone fell in love with. There are so many stories and moments that I have in my heart. These are some that really show who she was. Kelly, you are loved by so many. We will never forget you. I miss you so much.
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