Illini of the Week Feb. 2: Alex Diab


Ryan Fang

Illini of the Week Alex Diab practices on the rings. Diab grew up practicing in his father’s gym and now has a second family among his teammates.

By Tatiania Perry , Staff writer

When people think of male athletes, their minds tend to think of a 6-foot something giant and probably a ball of some sort. But for sophomore Alex Diab, his 5-foot-3 stature is ideal for his sport — gymnastics.

It’s commonly known that a collegiate athlete gets their start early in life, but Diab did one better: As the son of a former gymnast turned gym owner, he essentially grew up in the gym.

His father, Mark Diab, was a gymnast in high school and an Iowa State gymnast from 1981-1986 as well as the winner of the Iowa State Male Athlete of the Year in 1986.

“Eventually [he] opened his own gymnastics school,” Diab said. “He’s owned that my entire life. I started when I was three years old with classes.”

Starting off with a typical chaotic toddler tumbling class, he always associated fun with his gym time.

Though he can’t quite remember the first thing that he learned, his life in the gym made enough of an impact to remain in the forefront of all his activities.

“I did other sports too, but I always liked gymnastics the most, and I ended up sticking with it,” Diab said.

Fast-forward roughly a decade and a half, he still spends around 20 hours a week in the gym having just as much fun as he did as a toddler, with a team he considers family.

Diab spends all day with his teammates, eating meals, studying and even living together.

“It’s awesome, those guys are my brothers,” Diab said “We do everything together. We take classes together, live together, its really cool getting the chance to compete for one another and knowing that every guy’s got your back.”

Last season, the team finished fourth at the NCAA championships and second at the Big Ten Championships. Diab said he looks forward to having equal or greater success this year, but the focus is tilted towards winning the Big Ten Championship.

Individually, Diab was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice, was the Big Ten rings champion and finished his season with a total of 35 top five finishes.

Diab said he picked Illinois for the coaching staff and the team’s closeness. He listed Spring as his Illinois hero growing up and is happy to be competing under his reign.

“He knows so much about this sport and he’s a really good teacher, gymnastics wise and life lessons wise,” Diab said.

But it’s still the competitions that mark the best part of collegiate gymnastics for Diab.

“I love competing, putting the ‘I’ on my chest and competing with my brothers.”

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