Catherine Kuehn finds her grip on the steel bar as weights dangle intimidatingly from each end. Her muscles tense, her veins bulge. The world record holder takes a deep breath and deadlifts the apparatus with ease — up and down in a smooth, fast motion. Not bad for a 94-year-old.
“Oh, it’s something to do,” said Kuehn of lifting weights, setting records and approaching 100. “I never feel too accomplished about any of it.”
The Redmond weightlifter is, however, accomplished. Kuehn has two world records to her name: Deadlifting titles in the 147-pound weight class for women aged 80-90, and in the 132-pound class for women 90 and older. And she is not stopping there.
At 90, she could deadlift 93 pounds clean off the mat. That’s in the record books. And this weekend in Reno, Nevada, she’s going for another world record — lifting 104 pounds at age 94.
“Most people her age have a hard time lifting their keys,” said her trainer Dean Munsey. “What she’s doing is extraordinary.”
This extraordinary ability came late in life. Kuehn said she never worked with weights, played sports or even did much exercise until she was in her 60s.
“Oh heavens no,” she said. “Never. But I did like to sew.”
She spent much of her life as a doctor’s wife. Kuehn grew up in Indiana before marrying her husband, Dick, a pediatrician. He practiced for decades in Corvallis, then moved to Iowa for a short stint before they retired to Redmond. She got the nickname “Kay” when she was young, but prefers Catherine — because that’s what her husband liked.
“He always called me that with such affection,” she said.
The Kuehns raised three children. Catherine Kuehn was what in those days qualified as an older mother. She didn’t give birth until she was 34, and their youngest, their only son, didn’t arrive until she was 40.
“In those days you were asking for trouble, having a kid at that age,” she said.
She ran the medical office in addition to raising the children. She enjoyed working alongside her husband and watching how he treated his patients.
“He really cared about them,” said Kuehn. “He loved children, and they loved him.”
He loved his wife, too. He looked out for her like a husband and doctor would. When she was in her 60s, a scan showed her bone density was below average, a condition called osteopenia.
Dick suggested she start some strength training, in order to hold off osteoporosis and remain upright and healthy.
They both started working with Munsey, a trainer at Emergence Physical Therapy in Redmond. Munsey had competed in powerlifting events across the West for decades. He noticed right away that Catherine Kuehn had good form and was working hard to build strength. He thought training for a competition might give her extra incentive to work hard and keep showing up.
“She says she’s not competitive?” said Munsey. “She’s very competitive.”
It took months to win her over. The final hurdle was convincing her to wear a form-fitting singlet, the required outfit for all weightlifting competitions.
“It is not flattering at all,” said Kuehn.
But the competitions were. Kuehn was soon winning titles for her age group, then setting world records. She didn’t brag about it — so her husband did it for her.
“He’d introduce me to people as ‘My wife, the world-record holder,’” Kuehn recalled.
Dick Kuehn died in August 2021 of complications of heart disease and kidney failure. Catherine cared for him through his last days. During the pandemic she dared not leave home — not even to lift weights. She had to avoid COVID at all costs.
“If I brought it back to him, he would have died on the spot, he was so weak,” she said.
It was a difficult stretch of time and losing her husband made it much more so. But Kuehn said there was no doubt that she’d come back to the weight room.
“I didn’t want to get all stooped,” she said. “Plus, I missed it.”
Munsey said she has all of her strength back and then some. She trains with a friend, Peggy Neil, who is a decade her junior but works hard to keep up.
Adrian Robles practices with them as well. Robles has cerebral palsy and uses resistance training to build his upper body strength.
“He’s the real star,” said Kuehn.
All three are part of a Central Oregon team heading to Reno this weekend, hoping to bring back titles and world records.
“Oh, that’d just be great,” said Kuehn. “Can you imagine? Me? Another record?”