Neuroscientist and Rowing Coach Making Strides in Coastal Rowing in Greater Cincinnati

Marc Oria, PhD, (left) and rower Christopher Bak.

Marc Oria, PhD, a faculty neuroscientist in the Fetal Care Center at Cincinnati Children’s, thought his lifelong passion for rowing would remain behind in Europe after he and his family moved to the Queen City eight years ago.

“I didn’t even know we had rowing in Cincinnati,” Oria said. Oria, 42, was born and raised in Barcelona, Spain, where he began rowing as a young boy.

“The 1992 summer Olympics were held in Barcelona, and so rowing was a sport that was heavily promoted,” Oria said. “It’s always been exciting to me. And as I got older, I was really motivated to compete.”

Oria earned numerous medals at regional and national championships and rowed on the Catalunya and Spanish National Teams. For the Spanish National Team, he competed in the World Championship (1999-2001) and in the World Cup (1999-2000, 2002.)

While competing on the world stage, he was also earning a Biological Science degree from the University of Barcelona.

“In 2002, I was in a debate with myself,” Oria said. “Should I pursue my career as a scientist because I had gotten a scholarship to start my PhD in Barcelona? Or should I continue my dream to try and make it to the Olympics in 2004? I chose to follow my education and became a scientist.”

Oria went on to get his PhD in neuroscience from Autonomous University of Barcelona before working as a postdoctoral researcher at University College London. However, rowing was still a big part of his life. He began a coaching career in 2001 as an instructor before becoming director and head coach at the Reial Club Maritim de Barcelona, one of the oldest rowing clubs in Spain.

“Being a scientist and a rowing coach are really my two passions in this life,” Oria said.

Rower Cassidy Norton of Hamilton.

Rower Christopher Bak practices on the Great Miami.

In 2013, a former colleague from Barcelona, Jose L. Peiro, MD, PhD, fetal surgeon and endoscopic director of the Fetal Care Center, reached out about working at Cincinnati Children’s in the Center for Fetal and Placental Research lab, studying congenital malformations.

“When I came to Cincinnati Children’s, one of the important points was to build a strong basic and translational research laboratory to study congenital malformations and potential innovative prenatal therapies,” Peiro said. “I know that having a right-hand basic researcher in my lab is critical for the success in our goals, and Marc was the designated person. I knew him from previous different collaborations in Barcelona, and I was sure he would be the perfect fit for this role. His positive, collaborative, and healthy competitive attitude (probably coming from his rowing team skills) reinforces our lab and daily work.”

Oria moved to Cincinnati with his wife and young daughter in 2013.

Three years later, he received an unexpected phone call from the director of the rowing program at the University of Cincinnati.

“He said, ‘Marc, I heard you were here and wanted to see if we could meet for lunch.’ It was out of the blue and a complete surprise,” Oria recalled.

After their meeting, Oria served as assistant coach for the UC varsity women’s team (2016) and as a varsity women’s head coach (2017-19).

At the beginning of this year, the Great Miami Rowing Center in Hamilton announced that Oria had been hired as a head coach for the Great Miami Crew youth race team.

“Coastal rowing is becoming an extremely popular sport around the world, one of the fastest growing, because basically you can practice coastal in any stretch of open water,” Oria said. “It doesn’t have to be the ocean or the sea. What’s nice about the Great Miami River is that it is a beautiful stretch of water.”

Two boats from the Great Miami Rowing Center competed in the World Rowing Beach Sprints finals in Portugal from Sept. 24-26.

Rowers Cassidy Norton and Christopher Bak are part of the eight-crew U.S. team that took part after qualifying at the first-ever Beach Sprints National Team Trials held last June in Florida.

The races start with a foot sprint to the sculls (boats with two oars) in the water. Rowers then race on parallel courses that go out to sea and back, navigating around a series of buoys amid currents and waves. Rowers beach the boats and run to the finish line to conclude the race.

Norton, of Hamilton, competed in the women’s singles event.

“I've learned a lot from Marc,” Norton said. “He has been a very passionate and enthusiastic coach who always says the right things to encourage us, and he's always finding new ways for us to practice – like using the launch to create waves because we practice on flat water.”

Meanwhile, Bak competed in the men’s singles event.

“Marc is one of the most positive and motivational coaches I have ever had,” Bak said. “He comes to practice every day with a smile on his face and a belief that every athlete that he coaches has an opportunity to be successful. He never hesitates to help individuals around him achieve their personal goals. Marc’s dedication to the sport is second to none.”

Coastal Rowing is expected to become an Olympic sport in 2028.

Oria also collaborates with the USRowing National High Performance Center in Oklahoma, an official U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site for elite athletes. He holds the USRowing Level 3 Coaching certification, which is the highest rowing coach designation.

“My vision long term is to build a great sports complex for the Greater Cincinnati community for young children to adults, similar to what they have in Oklahoma City,” Oria said. “Ideally, I would like to see a center for the Midwest that would prepare our athletes for national USRowing trials.”

For the short term, he’s focused on the upcoming World Beach Sprints finals in Portugal. Before the competition, Oria is taking the team back to where his love for rowing began, Barcelona. They’ll train at a camp and then head to Portugal.

“I like to motivate my athletes and show them that hard work and perseverance really is the only way to make their dreams come true,” Oria said.

Rowers Cassidy Norton and Christopher Bak, with the Great Miami Rowing Center, are part of an eight-crew U.S. team that took part in the World Rowing Beach Sprints finals in Portugal from Sept. 24-26. Pictured with their coach Marc Oria (center).

Share this page

Go to the next article

O’Toole Named AAMC Women’s Leadership Award Recipient