Richie Derle

CRI Military Veteran Rowing Team


When CRI military rower Richie Derle talks about rowing, he does something he rarely used to do. He smiles. He smiles when he remembers his first day on the water. “I was so scared. I said, ‘if I fall in, I’m never coming back.’ But someone told me, ‘Rich, you can walk across this pond, it’s not deep. Don’t worry.’

”Richie smiles even more when he talks about the people he rows with. “Oh, they’re great. Everybody gets up at 4 AM to be here, and we even row in the rain. If someone told me I’d be getting up at four to row in the rain, I’d have said they were nuts. My daughter keeps asking, why do you do that?” Richie knows exactly why. He gets up and rows, rain or shine, because rowing gave him back something that had been missing from his life for forty years.

“I served in the Marine Corps in California from 1973 to 1975. My friends, they went to Vietnam but they never came back. After I got out, I didn’t have close contact with anyone. You know, you don’t want to get hurt again.” Life wasn’t easy for Richie after his discharge. “There was alcohol and drugs, and I lived on the street for a while. But then I got married.” He pauses, looks away and says, “I don’t know—I have no idea why my wife married me. I guess she must have seen something I didn’t. Everything took off from there. We bought a house, I worked 42 years managing a cemetery for the city of Boston, and I have four kids and nine grandchildren.” But something was still missing. “All that time,” Richie says, “I still didn’t have any friends.” That would change in 2016, thanks to former CRI Military Program Coordinator Marilyn Koblan.

Richie had started visiting the gym at the Bedford VA. “I looked in the mirror and said, ‘You have to do something.’ Being retired, the weight doesn’t come off as quickly.” One day he met Marilyn in the gym and she asked if he was interested in rowing. “I’d never done anything like that, but I tried it and I liked it. The camaraderie, it’s like when I was back in the Marine Corps. I’ve been doing it ever since, and I feel like I have some friends now. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I’ve gone on to bigger and better things.”

Bigger and better is an understatement. Last fall, Richie raced in an eight in the CRI Fall Classic, and a month later rowed a double in the Head of the Charles. For ten years, CRI’s Military Program, through the transformative power of rowing, has helped retired and returning active duty servicemen and service-women, as well as active duty and Gold Star spouses, adjust to life as a civilian or post-deployment. They train and receive coaching free of charge at CRI, in gratitude for the sacrifices they have made. But if you ask CRI Military Rower Richie Derle, rowing means much more than just training, racing and staying fit. Thanks to CRI, he’s found the kind of friendships he thought he would never have again. “My wife sees me smile a whole lot more than I used to,” Richie says. And as if to prove the point, he grins.