I am going to constantly be learning
Kittie Weston-Knauer, on the cusp of 70 years old, is the oldest female BMX bicycle racer in the U.S.
When she started competing in the late 1980s, she was often the only woman on the track. It was her son Max Knauer, 40 now, a champion BMX rider, who introduced her to the sport when he was 10.
Max, how did you plant the racing seed in your mom?
Max: Everything was quite unexpected. I was having a bad week racing and she was giving me pointers: ‘You’ve gotta pedal! You’ve gotta keep pedaling!’, she said. And at the time I was like: ‘Well, if it looks so easy to you, then why don’t you try it?’
And so you did it, Kittie?
Kittie: Yes. On Mother’s Day 1988, I was 40 then, I entered my first race. I borrowed Max’s gloves. I borrowed his helmet. And I rode his bike. I was hanging on for dear life. I didn’t exactly tear up the track either.
Max: I told you so!
Kittie: True, but I tell you what. I had a whole new respect for what you were out there doing. And the other thing I said was, “Well, hey, this is something I can do!’
Those days were great, weren’t they?
Max: Certainly. Though at first, I was a little embarrassed, I guess. But you know, after doing it a little while and we were traveling together, it was great. I thought it was really cool how other mothers really looked up to you.
Well, BMX is rather dangerous, isn’t it?
Max: Yes, rather. And I was concerned about it. People often get hurt, break an arm, collarbone. I recall when mom broke her neck in a racing accident.
And then, seeing her in the hospital, it was pretty tough, especially considering the doctors saying ‘Well, she might not walk again.’
How did your mom endure the trauma?
Kittie: The injury left me temporarily paralyzed from the shoulders down. But I was very determined that I was going to ride again. I returned to the track six months after the accident.
Were people surprised you returned to racing after that?
Kittie: Yes, and some were even greatly. But my answer was, ‘Why not? As long as I can keep the two wheels on the ground, I’m good.’
So since the day you took your son’s dare seriously, you haven’t backed down?
Kittie: Never. You see, at my age, it is not about finishing first, second or third. It is about finishing. It is about being as competitive as I can and it is about pushing those in front of me to ride harder.
Max, you have retired from BMX racing?
Max: But mom continues to ride today, racing all over the country.
Kittie: This sport, unlike any other sport, requires you to continue to be on your toes. And I don’t mean just on the pedals — understanding that you’re going to constantly be learning.