Spotlight: UI grad student hopes to skate for the gold


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Danilo Diedrichs trains for months in order to make his two-minute, 40-second ice-skating routine flawless, pulling off loops and double axels.

“That’s the nature of a lot of things in life,” said Diedrichs, 38. “You have one shot to get it right.”

He compared it to taking a test in school: You can study hard all semester, but failing the final can ruin your grade.

The Coralville resident first hit the ice during elementary school in Geneva, Switzerland. Diedrichs explained that physical education is different there. It’s rare that a class would split up and students would compete against each other — everything is focused on individual improvement.

Diedrichs has earned the nickname “The Renaissance Man” from friends who try to keep up with his various interests. With a graduate degree in civil engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology under his belt, Diedrichs is working toward a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Iowa.

“School for me has always been a pleasure,” he said. “I just love the university environment. There are knowledgeable professors at the cutting edge of their field.”

After he receives his degree, in 2012, he said he wants to be a professor, teaching and doing research in cell biology.

“Danilo has a great wealth for knowledge and is a teacher by heart,” said longtime friend Andy Saur. “We can be walking, and he’ll start to tell me all about a certain kind of tree or the stars.”

Diedrichs is fluent in five languages, plus a dead one, Saur said. He has worked hard to perfect, not just understand, Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, and Latin. He’s also a dedicated member of his church, where he is a group leader for 30 graduate students, and he plays piano.

In March 2009, Diedrichs competed in the U.S. Figure Skating National Championship in Bloomington, Minn., and took first place in the over-30 silver division.

But the skater’s goal is to be in the gold division, and Diedrichs will compete in January to qualify, hoping his four hours on the ice each week will pay off.

“I know he’s getting back into figure skating now, but when I met him, he was into planes; he got his pilot’s license and took me flying over Lake Geneva,” Saur said. Saur said he wasn’t nervous. “When he does anything, he’s confident.”

Besides skating competitively, Diedrichs practices ice dancing three times a week with his partner, UI music Professor Kate Gfeller.

“He is very patient to skate with somebody at my level, and he is a very helpful skater to everybody on the ice,” Gfeller said.

And while Diedrichs said he might not always be a team-player kind of guy, he still sets his goals high and isn’t afraid of the hard work it takes to achieve them.

“It takes a lot of precision and then a lot practice to enhance that precision,” he said.

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