June 2021 ~
The life and times of Robin Marks (Lincoln, 1980)—so far: Tomboy turned Lincoln High track champion, with five state titles, plus one team state crown. University of Arizona hurdles star, engineering student and astronaut wannabe.
Twice royalty. Chosen as the first black queen of both the Rose Festival and the Fiesta Bowl.
That’s a quick summation of Marks, 1980 Lincoln graduate and 2005 PIL Hall of Fame inductee. Marks, who joined the U of A Hall of Fame in 2002, is now a middle-school math teacher in Tucson. She enjoys the desert sun, walking the famed Tumamoc Hill hiking trail and Bible studies. “I’m a born-again Christian and am focusing on my relationship with Jesus Christ,” she says.
Marks grew up in North Portland, then made her way to Chapman Elementary in Northwest Portland when her mother chose that school during integration efforts by the district. Marks liked being in school, but she also liked being outdoors and being active. “I was a tomboy,” she says. “My mother was concerned, because I liked to go play baseball and climb trees. Nowadays, I guess it would be fair to just say, ‘She’s an athlete.’” She was the only girl on her youth baseball team, playing shortstop, and played hoops with the boys at Unthank Park when she could. She liked to play football with the guys during school lunch time.
When it came time to pick a direction for high school, she chose Lincoln. “I’d heard they had a good track team, and I liked to run, so it made sense to matriculate to the Chapman feeder school with the friends I’d made there,” she says. She tried gymnastics at Lincoln, because she was flexible, but she didn’t like it.
No one recruited her to try volleyball, which in hindsight she thinks might have suited her. But in track, she was special. She ran four years on the varsity, as a sophomore setting a city meet record of 24.6 seconds in the 200 meters that stood for more than 20 years.
As a Cardinal, she got to state numerous times – as a member of both relay teams and in the 200, high jump, long jump and 100 hurdles. Her biggest year was her final one, as she won state in the 200, long jump and mile relay and placed second in the 100 hurdles to lead Lincoln to the team championship. “I wish they’d had pole vault for girls,” she says. “It would have been something daring enough to try.”
Another highlight was that Lincoln’s girls team, under coach Dave Bailey, achieved the coveted “DDS” – sweeping the PIL dual and district meet titles and following that up with the big state trophy by 14 points over runner-up Springfield.
At Lincoln, she also played Power Puff football, and made the cheerleading team as a fall sport. “I was a little too early – if I could have had the choice, I probably would have put on the gear and turned out for football,” she says, “although I don’t know that my mom would have signed off on that.”
She also played four years of basketball in high school, three on the varsity. “If there had been a WNBA, I probably would have focused on basketball,” she says. “But I felt like I would have more success in track, and there was always that dream of going to the Olympics.”
While at Lincoln, she also fancied the idea of being homecoming queen, “but I didn’t win.” Friends then suggested she try for Rose Festival princess, “and that offered a scholarship.” So she went for it, and made not only princess but also was crowned Queen of Rosaria.
College was next. “Oregon and Oregon State offered me a full ride and said I could do both basketball and track,” she says. But she chose Arizona in good measure because “I didn’t want to do four more years of track in the rain.”
At Arizona, she earned a full ride during her second semester. The 400 hurdles became her specialty, and she learned the technique fast enough to win the national championship as a freshman. She was second as a sophomore, and went on to compete in three Olympic Trials, once coming close to making one of the three U.S. team spots in the 400 hurdles. While in Arizona, she added Fiesta Bowl queen to her goals list and earned that honor in 1984.
She was still an engineering major with the dream of space travel when she saw live on television the Challenger space shuttle explode in January 1986, killing all seven astronauts. “I thought,’I’ll keep my feet on the ground,’” she says.
She switched majors and graduated with a degree in media arts and minor in mathematics. “In the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a sports journalist on TV,” she says. “I wanted to see someone who looked like me, and at the time (ESPN’s) Robin Roberts really was it.”
Marks pursued that vision for about 10 years, doing a CNN internship, a sports anchor job in Albany, Ga., and then a news gig in West Virginia before becoming frustrated with the business.
Teaching came next, starting in Dallas, and she has stayed with that, though she has also thought about serving as a success coach at some school.
Marks doesn’t like being labeled. But she recalls that her late mother, Maggie, was a good friend to others in Portland, “and I’d like to think I take that directly from her and am a kind person, because I was my mother’s daughter.”
Beyond that, in terms of describing herself and her life, she contemplates an answer and then says: “Well, I have the name of a bird, and I certainly was free to chase my dreams. And I did that, without regret, because I didn’t want a bucket list.”