Life on four wheels: Robert Marrella's passion plays out at the roller rink
Gresham resident Robert Marrella traces his fingers in multiple "u" shapes on the table to illustrate how working backward can help solve problems — analyzing the root of an issue.
He does this when he fixes computer equipment. And even when he roller skates.
"When I have a problem (with a printer) and it's just doing something it's not supposed to, (I have to think), 'Why is it doing this? What is going wrong?' I go back and see this is wrong here and then it just gets worse," says Marrella, who worked at IBM for 32 years before retiring in 2001 to work for Ricoh — a digital services and printing company. "(With) skating (I look at) why I'm not at a certain step here (to) a certain beat of music? Why am I late? I'm late here, but the reason I'm late happened back here."
Marrella calls it "diagnostic thinking."
The 75-year-old has to think about the problems he encounters in computer equipment and his roller skating routine by analyzing the issue and regressing.
"As far as work ethic, (that) comes from skating ethic," Marrella says. "When I first started working for IBM I didn't know anything about the machines I was going to be working on, but I knew from skating that you have to put forth the effort and learn things in order to be successful."
To Marrella, skating and fixing tech hardware go hand in hand.
Marrella started roller skating when he was 18, for a reason some might deem silly: for the women.
A family friend took Marrella skating at Oaks Park Roller Skating Rink in Southeast Portland just after he graduated from Lincoln High School — both had never been.
"We skated around, and I did my best not to fall down," recalls Marrella, adding that they ran into his cousin who was participating in couples skating. "He was skating with a really cute girl. So that ended and we skated around a while again and (then it was the couple's turn). So we stood behind the rail. We're watching because we are both barely able to stand up, and again (my cousin's) out there and he's skating with a different girl. I said, 'we're gonna have to learn how to do this.'"
While he initially started this hobby because of the attractive, talented women skaters, he fell in love with gliding on the rink. He even met Sue at Oaks Park Roller Skating Rink and eventually married her.
"The feeling of putting on skates and just the things you can do, it's a challenge," Marrella says. "I (wanted to) get better so I did."
Marrella remembers the first time he partner skated in team dance in front of judges for a regional competition.
"It was an out-of-body experience. I had no clue what was going on," says Marrella, whose partner had skated competitively before. "First dance out, I was petrified. I didn't fall, but being a newbie, we didn't do very well."
While taking skating lessons after high school, Marrella was studying at Multnomah College — former vocational electronics school. During that time he joined the Oaks Skating Club. A "home away from home," he says.
He then joined the U.S. Army, working for the North American Aerospace Defense Command for three years.
Upon his return, Marrella put skates to the floor and got down to business. Practicing his hobby about four times a week, he decided to start couples skating and participating in more contests to prepare for regionals and nationals.
Marrella became enthralled with the competitive aspect and has since traveled across the country to compete in more than 20 regional competitions and 10-12 national competitions — the highest he's placed at nationals is fourth in team dance.
"Not bad for an old guy," Marrella says, with a laugh.
For most of Marrella's roller skating adventures, he has skated in team dance and figure skating, but steers clear of the freestyle genre — jumps and spins are not his forte.
But Marrella isn't the only one in the family who roller skates. He team skated for a while with Sue, who died 12 years ago.
"I taught her how to skate, and we skated together for a little but (it was) too much for a married couple to be partners," Marrella says.
So they both joined forces with different partners, a partnership that is constantly changing in the skating world.
"I gave her the basics and after teaching her she turned around and slapped me by beating me," says Marrella, recalling a regional competition where he and his partner got third, while his wife and her partner got first.
Even though Marrella grew up in Portland and moved to Southwest Gresham in 1990, family trips to the rink in Portland never ceased.
His son, Vincent, skated until he turned 16 and got a car. Daughter, Elaina, skates competitively and has won nationals twice. And now Elaina's daughter, Zoey, 2, has taken to the roller rink.
"She loves to skate. Every time we go down, we have to put her skates on and take her out," says Marrella, who added that at one point his entire family was a member of the Oaks Skate Club. "She's gonna be a skater."
Both Zoey and Elaina are still members of the club, and the three often go to practice together.
"Skating is a family event for us," Marrella says. "A family that skates together, stays together."
Although Marrella is skating solo at the moment, he still plans to stand on the podium at nationals. He will start preparing to compete in regionals and, hopefully, nationals within the next month or so.
"If people have hobbies, just because they get older, don't give up. Keep going after them," says Marrella, who values the people, health and mind-set skating has brought him. "They'll keep you young."