She's brash, powerful, and not afraid to rock the boat. But Ursula Grobler had never even touched an oar when she moved from South Africa to the United States in 2003, at age 23. A top junior triathlete back home, she learned to row on Seattle's Green Lake. Eight years later, Grobler is a U.S. citizen, one of the country's top rowers, and an indoor world-record holder. She's so good, in fact, that she was set to qualify for the 2010 world championships in three events when an uproar ensued. Rowing traditionalists begged her not to enter all three so that other American athletes could have a chance. She relented, entering two and winning silver, along with three boatmates, in the 2,000-meter quad. The author caught up with her in May as she prepared for the National Selection Regatta, which could send her back to the August world championships in Slovenia.
Grobler in Oklahoma City in March
OUTSIDE: How does rowing compare with competing as a triathlete?
GROBLER: In tris, I usually came in last in the swim, but I got away with it by making up time in the biking and running parts. In rowing, the technical side—handling the oars and the boat—became a greater challenge. I couldn't just hammer down the course like I do in tris.
What was your reaction to the controversy at last year's world championships?
I wasn't surprised, knowing that I was taking spots away from other people. But my feeling is that this is the world championships. If I can get a medal and the other person is just getting experience, I feel like I should go and get the medal.
What did you learn from the process?
That patience—of which I have none—is a virtue.
What do you need to do to become the world champ?
Avoid mental baggage. Olympian Dan Walsh, one of the guys on the team, put it nicely. He said, "How much do you weigh before you race?" I said, "One-thirty." He said, "Well, make sure that when you get in the boat you're not 150, carrying around so much extra shit."