Women’s rowing head coach Marci Robles thought her career would end as a student-athlete at Boston College.
But Robles struggled to find a job with her art history and a theology degree from BC and museum studies certificate from Tufts, and eventually, rowing found its way back into her life. She is now approaching her second season with the Colonials since taking the helm of the program in fall 2018.
“I’m a teacher at heart, and coaching offered a unique teaching opportunity,” Robles said in an email. “Rowing shaped my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined, so to stay with the sport and coach/teach really seemed like a calling.”
Robles rowed for the Eagles throughout her time in college, serving as a female coxswain on the men’s rowing club team. She led the men’s lightweight 4+ to a first-place finish in her senior season.
“As club athletes, we had to be our own advocates,” Robles said. “We were also responsible for the administrative side of running a program, so there was more work involved in ensuring that our team was successful.”
Robles added that being a female on an all-male team did not get in the way of her team’s wins, adding that she focused on being a clear and effective communicator as coxswain.
“I grew up with brothers and training with male athletes, so there wasn’t much of a change when I transitioned to collegiate athletics,” Robles said. “We were fortunate enough to win big races, so the focus was on bringing our best to the team no matter what your gender was.”
After she completed her undergraduate degree and Certificate of Museum Studies at Tufts, she volunteered at Georgetown. After a year, she was promoted to varsity lightweight assistant coach and within a year she was offered a job at Gonzaga as an assistant women’s rowing coach.
Leading the Bulldogs, the Varsity 4+ team won a West Coast Conference Championship and finished the season No. 16 in the NCAA. She stayed at Gonzaga for three seasons before moving into her first head coaching position at Jacksonville.
Robles spent three seasons with the Cougars and led her Varsity 8 and 2nd Varsity 8 boats to first-place finishes at the 2015 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship. She said helming a men’s team was a goal early in her coaching career because there were “very few” women in men’s rowing.
“I wanted to help change that,” Robles said. “It was a great experience – I really enjoyed working with my athletes there, and I learned as a first-time head coach.”
Robles worked for a season at Rutgers before joining the women’s rowing program at GW, where she has coached for two years to date. As head of the women’s team, Robles said she listens to her rowers and communicates with them as more than student-athletes.
She added that she encourages the rowers to develop ways to communicate for themselves about their own progress, and she works on empowering her female student-athletes.
In the water, she led her squad to its highest team score in program history at the Atlantic 10 Championship last season. The Colonials nabbed second, with a total of 48 points, for its highest finish in six years.
“We also talk a lot of being, owning your role in your own success (borrowed from a mentor of mine),” Robles said. “We want our women to develop their own voices and be able to advocate for themselves, so developing empowerment is a big part of our mentorship.”