It is 6:30 a.m. in Houston, Texas, and Kirsten Kline answers the video call smiling, flushed and still in workout clothes from her morning training session.
Kline’s typical day starts at 3:00 a.m. when she drinks a cup of coffee and jumps on the Concept2 RowErg for her first session. She then heads out to her rowing club and trains on the water, making it home before her workday starts at 8:30 a.m.
It’s a grueling schedule, but for Kline, it is absolutely vital.
“I am very much a creature of habit. I like knowing what’s going to happen,” Kline explains. Even early in the morning, her energy is palpable. She tells her story like she rows—fast. “Some people might think it’s boring, but having a routine keeps me in a good space. The erg especially has helped me to develop that discipline,” she continues.
But life didn’t always look like this for Kline. Growing up in a sport-family with six kids, she tried every team sport you can imagine. When she went to college, playing on the basketball team was almost an inevitability. For the first two years Kline excelled, but then, it went a bit off track.
“I quit playing basketball and I started partying and drinking a lot,” Kline says. “I remember, back in the day, someone would ask me what my hobby was and I would say, drinking.” She pauses before adding, “it’s insane that I thought that was a hobby.”
Kline finished school, starting working and, at age 28, she thought it was as good as it would get. She was drinking on the weekends and, ‘not doing much of anything’. It wasn’t until Kline found sobriety, CrossFit and indoor rowing that things turned around.
“If I’m honest, I have to bring it back to getting sober. It literally changed my life. When I stopped drinking, I had all this energy and a lot of anger. I saw the erg and decided to put all that energy into rowing,” she says.
But as Kline reflects on the last few years, she realizes that what started as an outlet for anger evolved into a space of peace and even joy. And, it opened up a new world.
Her new hobby snowballed into serious training when she discovered that she was fast. She found the Concept2 logbook and noticed that her scores were comparable to some of the top times—or at least she thought they were. “I owe a lot of it just to being naïve. I didn’t realize back then the difference that five seconds could be. I thought that I wasn’t far off from these great rowers, even though I actually was at the time. But seeing the leaderboard and believing that I could be on it too, that’s what got me hooked,” she says.
Kline’s naivete paid off. In the last four years she has set three indoor rowing records and become the 2021 World Rowing Indoor Champion, with an impressive time of 6:45.8. With each new record, she started to realize the extent of the possibilities. The relentless pursuit to exceed her own limits has led Kline to set a new goal: making the US national team (on water).
While Kline says the odds are stacked against her—she’s 5’8” (173cm) and 32 years old—she won’t let it stop her. “I am constantly playing with things,” she says. “I see how I feel, or change the damper, or experiment with fast and slow starts. I just attempt it all. And I think when you approach life like that, it sometimes works out in your favor.”
Kline is not afraid to try, and it has brought her extraordinarily far. Yet, she still holds on to the remnants of her CrossFit beginning. Kline still competes at a damper setting of ten, admitting that it’s how she started and where she feels comfortable.
“I am trying to get more comfortable at a lower setting,” she laughs. “I feel like I have to work harder when I set it lower, but I’m trying to get more comfortable there because I know it benefits my technique and rowing on the water.”
And yet even her poor technique is a reason for the ever-positive Kline to remain hopeful. “I see that my form is still bad and that excites me! I think, once my form gets better, maybe I’ll have even faster times,” she says.
There’s no doubt about it, there is plenty more to come from Kirsten Kline.