She was a former high school prom queen, a Willow Glen mother and a renowned skier since her days as captain of her college downhill ski team. So it was all the more heartbreaking for Cindy Mulcahy's family when she crashed on the slopes in Lake Tahoe and died.
"She probably would have gone to the Olympics if she hadn't had me," said her oldest of three sons, 27-year-old Jordan, on Tuesday. "She never falls when she skis. She's skiing down the mountain and the next second she's just gone; (it's) crazy."
Mulcahy, who was 52 and worked in cosmetic sales in San Jose, was skiing an intermediate-level course with her friends at Northstar California on Thursday when everything changed.
She soared over a jump about 3 p.m., hit the ground hard and her heart stopped beating. She died a short time later at a hospital, local authorities said.
Mulcahy died of a ruptured aorta, the large valve that connects to the heart, Paul Schmidt, the chief deputy coroner in Nevada County, said Tuesday. He said based on the trauma from the fall, the organ likely ruptured on impact, a common injury for drivers who hit the steering wheel during car crashes.
Her husband of 21 years, Brian, said her family's house at Northstar had burned down, so the insurance company had given Cindy, her friends and her youngest son a room at the Ritz-Carlton. The day of the accident was the last run on the slopes before they were set to head back to Willow Glen. Minutes before she took off down the mountain, she was smiling and posing for pictures.
"She was enjoying it so much," said Brian Mulcahy, a 55-year-old food broker. "She was calling friends of hers that day, and the night before, saying, 'You got to get up here; it's beautiful.' "
After growing up in the Claremont area of the Oakland hills, she married Brian and they moved to Campbell before settling in San Jose in 2000. Mulcahy, who has a twin sister, worked for Arbonne, which sells skin care products, and was heavily involved in community groups, namely St. Christopher Ladies Guild, the Valle Monte League and the Children's Musical Theater San Jose.
She was also known for roaring like a tiger when she got really excited, and for her many catchphrases, such as "knock it off" -- a refrain she often uttered to people who complained, a reminder of all the positive things in their lives. Now it's become a common refrain for mourning family members as they try to focus on her giving nature.
Her middle child, Tucker, recalled his mother's reaction when his friend's sister had undergone three intense surgeries.
"My mom was with her, just by her side this whole time, even when the nurses were trying to kick her out," said Tucker, a 25-year-old actor in New York. "And she's not even her daughter."
Jordan remembered when he and Tucker got swept into the ocean after a huge wave. As others on the beach ran for help, their mother dove into the water.
"My mom saved my life, and whether she was getting sucked out or not, she pulled us out of the water," Jordan said. "She was just an angel, a 5-foot-1 angel."
At least, the family said, she died doing what she loved. "If there was a place for it to end," Brian Mulcahy said, "that would be it."
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705.