Kelly Catlin is a goal driven person, as you’ll soon read. A Minnesota High School League Alumnus (she competed for the Roseville Area Composite Team in both 2012 and 2013) she recently earned a spot on the 2016 Olympic Cycling Team (track). Kelly’s on a sabbatical from the University of Minnesota while she trains for the games.
Kelly took some time (actually a lot of time) from her busy pre-Olympic training schedule to thoughtfully answer a long, boring list of questions. We asked Kelly to pick out two of her favorite, recent pictures. Read the narrative she provided with the images. You’ll gain a keen insight on the demands she places on herself to reach the pinnacle of her sport.
What was your athletic background/history prior to cycling?
I was a soccer player prior to being a cyclist. Until I was 16, soccer was my main sport. I began basically as soon as I could walk. That does not mean I was all that good, however. My strength in soccer was always in the physical: that is, the ability to out sprint the defense to the ball or to simply outlast opponents in the second half. The more nuanced aspects of soccer never came naturally to me. That is, perhaps, why cycling seemed more of a natural fit for me.
I also dabbled in track and field, though I did not take part in my high school track squad. I always enjoyed running, and even now I find there is nothing like a good run to relieve the mind…or reawaken my love of cycling. It was actually in running that I first dreamed of going to the Olympics: I wanted to be the fastest 100 meter sprinter ever!
When did you discover that cycling was your superpower?
Hah, well I wouldn’t exactly call it a superpower – more like a craft or an art. In fact, the more I experience in the world of cycling, the more I realize that cycling is a unique sport. Cycling is a sport highly dependent on the ability to suffer. The more you can suffer and the stronger the mind, the greater the cyclist you can be. It was only when I was pushed beyond my perceived limits at the Olympic Training Center that I discovered what I was truly capable of. I truly discovered my strength in cycling when I discovered the strength of my mind.
Favorite Mn HS League race/moment?
My favorite High School League moment is hard to pinpoint. I can’t name a specific race, but every time one of our riders was on the podium, the energy was beyond description. It wasn’t so much our individual successes that mattered, but our shared victory as a team. The joy was always infectious. That is something that is missing in a lot of disciplines of cycling these days – though we enter as teams, we exit (via the podium) as individuals. I really valued NICA’s emphasis not only on team standings, but on the contributions of each and every member of the team.
Do you ever get out on an MTB anymore?
I have been banned from riding a mountain bike until after the Olympics, actually, due to my unfortunate magnetism towards trees and cliffs (long story…). My skills aside, I do know that riding a mountain bike (however badly) has helped me get to where I am today. The ability to control the bike, maneuver sharp turns, shift my center of gravity, and modulate braking is incredibly important in road racing. Mountain biking also imparts an acute self-awareness in space that is crucial to team pursuit exchanges at 50 mph.
How did you feel when you heard you made the 2016 Olympic team?
That’s really hard to say. I guess I still haven’t really comprehended it. My difficulty is that it wasn’t even a possibility or even a nebulous dream 15 months ago. It wasn’t a moment I had been planning for over years and years. While I certainly had the expectation of being named to the team after our World Championships, I never sat and pondered the significance of being named to the team. Instead, it rather just felt like another day. Our day-to-day training requires Olympic excellence at every moment, so I didn’t have to make any mental or physical adjustments after the announcement. Rather, our team just shouldered on and kept on striving as we always will.
What does a typical training day/week look like?
The difficulty with the lead-up to the Olympics is that each training week is unique. We could be in Los Angeles training at the velodrome, or in Colorado Springs’ Olympic Training Center training at altitude, or any number of training bases depending on our physiological needs. If we were in LA, for example, we would be doing two sessions at the track per day, every day. Each session lasts from two to four hours and involves warm-up, technical practice, a main set of intervals/efforts, and then cool-down. This is variously mixed with video and data review between efforts. Rather like mountain biking, team pursuit requires a good balance of lower intensity and higher intensity training. We could be the strongest team in the world, but without highly finessed exchange and start skills, we might not succeed.
Though I am on a leave of absence for this semester, I have been taking transfer credits at the University of Colorado while training at the Olympic Training Center. I am originally from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and I will be returning as a sophomore there after the Games. I am currently working on a double major in Mathematics and Chinese with an eye on fulfilling the requirements to apply to medical school.
Future cycling goals?
Oh, I wish I knew! If I was to begin pulling things out of thin air, I would say I dream of continuing to develop as a track rider in order to succeed in both individual and mass start events at the World Cup level. I would also like to continue to develop as a road rider such that I can begin to aim for higher GC placings in stage races. The discipline closest to my heart is time trialing, though, and I would love to become an internationally-competitive time trialist. Competing (and succeeding!) at the 2017 Road World Championships in the professional women’s category is a secret dream of mine. I also want to have a run at the Hour Record someday…
…and maybe finally learn how to maneuver around trees on my mountain bike. That would be useful.
I hope to be a good, decent person that can honestly say that they have not just succeeded as a cyclist, but that they have succeeded as a mentor and citizen. I am hoping by striving for success as a cyclist and as a doctor, I can offer a unique perspective on the human condition. I think there is great meaning to be found in the mental and physical trials of cycling, and, if we continue to explore them, we might just learn something about ourselves. For now, I am still learning.
Further, I would like to be involved in the Minnesota Cycling Center’s project to build a new, international-standard velodrome in Minneapolis. Seeing the completion of that project and being a part of its success would mean more to me than possibly anything else.
Any words of wisdom for MN League riders?
The typical clichés apply here: never give up, enjoy yourself, have fun, make friends, explore and learn, try something new. I agree with all of the aforementioned. However, if there was one thing I wish I had learned before continuing further down the road of cycling, it would be this: be mindful. I do not mean be cautious or overly careful. I mean be present in the moment. Recognize each and every moment – when training, racing, studying, or in class – and pay attention to it. Too often we travel through our lives and tasks on autopilot. Though this is a reliable coping mechanism for the sometimes-troublesome aspects of our lives, it does not allow us to reap the full wealth of possibilities available to us. Try it. Next time you’re doing something painful or unpleasant, don’t think about how much you’d rather be doing something else, think about the sensations. I guarantee the time will not only go by faster, but that you’ll get that extra ten-percent out of whatever you’re doing.