Kittie D. Weston-Knauer, 69, poses for a photo at Hire BMX Park in Warsaw Saturday. Photo by David Slone.
Kittie D. Weston-Knauer, 69, poses for a photo at Hire BMX Park in Warsaw Saturday. Photo by David Slone.

Having two artificial hips and two knees from DePuy Synthes hasn’t stopped Kittie Weston-Knauer from being the oldest female BMX racer in the country, possibly the world.

In fact, the 69-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa – known in the BMX world as Miss Kitty – said getting the replacement joints several years ago because of osteoarthritis probably has helped extend her racing life.

“Do you remember what it was like (before)? No, and I don’t want to remember what it was like, it was pure pain, before. And I mean that because it was, at that point, it was all bone-on-bone in terms of the hips and in terms of the knees. It was at times excruciating painful just to walk, to do a simple thing. ... But, I wasn’t going to stop, I wasn’t going to stop riding, I wasn’t going to stop living,” she said.

Since she wasn’t going to stop, she decided she needed to do something about her hips and knees as they weren’t going to get any better. MRIs revealed her body was riddled with arthritis, her hips and knees being the worst. She looked for the right doctor who was willing to help her get back to where she needed and wanted to be.

“And age shouldn’t have anything to do with it. That’s a concern I have, is that (people) in this country are hesitant to do ... things for people as they age, and I don’t think age should have anything to do with it. Everyone should be able to have quality in their life. If we have the medical know-how, why not provide what is needed so you can stay healthy, both physically and emotionally?” she said.

Weston-Knauer had her right hip replaced in December 2013, with her left done February 2014. Both knees were done in December 2014.

Weston-Knauer was in Warsaw for several days late last week to do a presentation at DePuy Synthes.

Judy Kay Moore, DePuy Synthes communications manager, said DePuy Synthes on Friday celebrated Manufacturing Excellence at its Warsaw site.

“We were able to connect Kittie with the manufacturing personnel who had actually made her implants,” Moore said. Weston-Knauer’s hip implants are called Corail. “So it’s, I would say, inspirational for us to know that we’ve had a role in helping her return to the activity that she just loves,” Moore said.

“When they had asked me to come to do that, I said, ‘let me check to see if the track is still up and running,’” Weston-Knauer recalled. “If I can get a race in, I’m going to make it happen.”

She practiced Thursday, gave the presentation at DePuy Synthes Friday and raced Saturday at Hire BMX Park against racers 25 years her junior.

Liza Arnold, 44, was one of the bikers who raced Weston-Knauer on Saturday.

“She’s very famous in the BMX world, for sure,” Arnold said, adding that she “very much so” was inspired by Weston-Knauer. “I hope I can be riding when I’m 69 years old.”

Thanks to being featured in the New York Times Daily 360 Video last week and Healthline the week before, Weston-Knauer’s notoriety is only increasing as she inches closer to her 70th birthday on July 22.

Her passion for BMX racing started when she was 40 years old, thanks to her oldest son, Max IV.

“As a matter of fact, we were at the Rockford BMX track in Rockford, Ill., and being a parent you stand on the sidelines screaming and yelling, ‘do this, rah, rah, you should do this,’” she recalled. Her son didn’t make it to the final race of his group.

 “He said, ‘If you think this is so easy, why don’t you try it?’ So, Mother’s Day, I raced with the other mothers. And I’ll tell you right now, I was hooked.”

That first race, she found it to be “thrilling, exhilarating, exciting.” She had already been a cyclist, but not a BMXer.

“By that I mean I’ve done 32 RAGBRAIs (The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) and by the time Max was 11, he already had five RAGBRAIs under his belt. So we were a cycling family. Son Max started BMXing at age 9, so we had been traveling throughout Iowa, Eastern Illinois, over to Omaha to race during that time period up to southern Minnesota, down to Missouri. So that was all the racing we had done until someone said you ought to take him to Rockford, he’ll love that. He’ll do well there,” Weston-Knauer recalled.

The first day at Rockford, Max did well, but not so well on the second day and it was the second day when he challenged his parents to race. His father, Max III, raced BMX bikes before Kittie did. Only Kittie still races.

“I said, ‘This is crazy. I’m not going to be driving all over who-knows-where while you guys get out and have a good time and I stand on the sidelines.’ So my husband gave me his bike and he got another bike,” she said.

At the time, there was just one other woman racing in her age class. “We were the only two women in our class in the nation, so I had to race with men. I didn’t know any different, and there was no difference to know because there just wasn’t women who weren’t racing Cruiser class,” she said.

When she started riding BMX bikes at 40, her osteoarthritis wasn’t a “major” issue, she said, because she had already been riding other bicycles for awhile. From 1973 to 1986, she taught middle school and used to ride her bicycle three miles to work and back every day. During her pregnancy with both of her sons, she kept riding.

Riding, she said, just came natural.

“Unbeknownst to me, the bike riding was probably the healthiest thing I could have been doing anyway because you continue to keep the muscles and the skeletal system strengthened even though arthritis was eating at the bones.”

She didn’t really begin to feel the effects of arthritis until her late 40s/early 50s. In her late 50s/early 60s, the arthritis started really kicking in.

“All of a sudden, the body just said, ‘At some point, you’re going to have to do something.’ But I was still racing, traveling all over the country, traveling into Canada racing. As a matter of fact, at age 59 (in 2007) I finished seventh at the BMX Worlds, which was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. And, yes, I had arthritis then,” she said, adding that the class she raced in was for women 45 and older.

A BMX racer has to qualify to compete at World.

Weston-Knauer qualified for World again this year in Austin, Texas. There, she was racing 30- and 40-year-old women. She finished seventh, enough to qualify for World again, and making her again the oldest woman competing at World in Rockhill, S.C.

Because of her can-do spirit, her determination, her competing against much younger women and media attention, she’s hearing from folks she doesn’t know, telling her she’s an inspiration to them.

“One of the things that I’m able to get people to understand ... it’s about enjoying yourself, it’s about getting out there competing regardless of your age, and it’s not about whether or not you win. ... Every time I get on my bike, I win. I don’t necessarily finish first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth, that is not why I do this. I do this because it’s No. 1, fun. No. 2, fun. No. 3, fun. And then we can get into all of the other things. I have to stay competitive. I have to do things others don’t necessarily do,” she said.