What makes a great CrossFit athlete?  Is it the endless hours of training or is it that they are endowed with a special recipe of DNA that destines them to greatness?

Occasionally in this sport, you will hear about athletes that are considered “naturals”. Speaking specifically about rowing, genetics may come into play. For example, the height of the athlete. Yet, just being tall isn’t going to make you a world-class rower.

Being the best requires a lot more than just good genetics. It requires hours of hard work in the gym, diet, intelligence level, work ethic, the ability to handle pressure as well as sacrifice, and a love for the sport.


I’ve had the pleasure to start coaching CrossFit Games athlete Kari Pearce on the Concept2 indoor rower in February 2016. Kari is one of those athletes that people consider a natural. She began CrossFit in November 2014 and qualified for the Reebok CrossFit Games in July 2015.

Yes, just 6 short months after beginning CrossFit. While most of us mere mortals are still tripping over our double-unders and working with the PVC pipe, Kari was on her way to the Games where she took 21st place in 2015. 

What Kari is lacking in height she makes up for in strength, conditioning, form, practice and strategy. She excels at playing to her strengths while managing her weaknesses.

She Got to Where She is

Kari was a gymnast from 1992-2011. She competed as a collegiate gymnast for the University of Michigan from 2008-2011. She then did 6 months of weightlifting, 2 years of bodybuilding, 6 months of powerlifting, and then found CrossFit. So is she a genetic freak or a hardworking, dedicated athlete?

I’d say more of the latter but it’s probably a combination of the both. These past endeavors have certainly helped her become the athlete she is today. They created a strong base for which she has built upon but it’s her hard work that helped her most recently finish 5th in the world at the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games as the fittest American female.

Why Rowing

When it comes to rowing we could consider it in the category of weakness for Kari. She successfully worked around this in the past thanks to the design of the sport. However, CrossFit is becoming increasingly competitive leaving no room for weakness. 

While Kari isn’t exactly built for rowing with a height of 5’3″. She wants to be the best in the world. Therefore, she’s dedicating time and effort to this component and it’s paying dividends. 

After beginning the Dark Horse rowing program she made some simple fixes to her form. She’s already hit numerous PR’s and doesn’t let the fact that she’s only 5’3 become an excuse or a limiting factor.

Rowing is not considered a sexy movement like a snatch or a muscle up. But rowing is showing up in a lot of Crossfit competitions including the Regionals and the Games.

Rowing is a very technical movement just like Olympic weightlifting and gymnastics. What the Dark Horse program has provided Kari is a strong emphasis on proper form and efficiency, as well as individualized pacing.

Kari is just one example who has recognized the benefits of adding a rowing program to her regular programming. You might think of rowing as grunt work, but it’s work none the less. And because rowing is a skill, it can be, and needs to be, practiced and performed properly with good form, if good results are to be your experience. 


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