Kate Walker, a former ballet dancer, had to stop dancing in her 40s when knee problems developed into severe osteoarthritis pain. Cortisone injections and physical therapy helped her walk without crutches, but that wasn’t enough for this Ashland, Mo., woman, who wondered how much stronger she could get.

Now 62, Kate is a champion powerlifter, among the world’s strongest women. She can dead lift more than 250 pounds, squat more than 180 pounds and bench press 110 pounds. We caught up with her to see how she does it.

Arthritis Today: How has OA impacted you?
Kate Walker: Things got really bad about eight years ago. My knees swelled up. I couldn’t dance anymore. I couldn't even walk.

AT: Why did you start weight lifting?
KW: I liked physical therapy, but I knew it wasn’t going to enable me to be an athlete again. My spirit was pretty broken. I was so depressed. I thought, “I have to do something different. I can’t live like this.” I found an exercise physiologist who works with athletes. He was so encouraging that I tried lifting more and more weight. I’m very goal-oriented, so when I started seeing results, I was hooked.

AT: What has lifting done for you?
KW: I have a lot of self-confidence now. It’s been an even better experience for me than dancing. Dancing was an internal process. Lifting has become a community experience. I have women writing me letters that say, “You’re an inspiration. If you can do this, maybe I can, too!”

AT: What do you love and hate about the sport?
KW: I love the idea of being able to get out there, warm up and use my body to its maximum ability. I love to train. I love to go to competitions – they’re very exciting – and get to know people from all over the world. I love the comradeship. I also love teaching my yoga classes and helping people become stronger. What I don’t love is meet-prep. The hard part is the mental and [physical] preparation right before a meet. I use my Jacuzzi, so soreness is not a big issue.