Atop the board, the mind clears and the focus narrows. A steady breath matches the beating pulse. After a pause, the feet begin to shuffle forward and the floor underneath to shake. In a moment, the diver makes his final leap, launching his body through the air and into the familiar water below.
There is something beautiful in each dive. The hours of practice, the nervous breath, the unceasing will—all are condensed into just a few seconds. The final result, however, lasts for much longer, particularly when Chicago fourth-year Matt Staab is the one making the jump.
Staab got his start from a young age, but his source of inspiration wasn’t the grandeur of Olympic diving or flawless leaps of form. Instead, he found his passion close to home. “I actually got into diving through my brother. He wasn’t very athletic growing up and diving was sort of at the end of a long list of different sports he’d tried. He ended up being very talented at it and I started less than a year after him,” says Staab.
Moving through the years, Staab developed into a standout diver. By the end of high school, with no shortage of athletic opportunities, he had to choose where to spend the next four years of his life. His decision, as he recalls, turned out to be quite easy.
“UChicago just had that unexplainable ‘it’ factor for me. I immediately felt welcomed and at home the moment I stepped on campus. From an athletic standpoint, it seemed like a school where I could make an immediate impact on the team as a diver, which was exciting too.”
The rest, as they say, is history. As soon as he arrived, Staab proved to be a special athlete, dominating the one- and three-meter dives. In both the 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 seasons, Staab was named UAA Diver of the Year, UAA champion, Honorable Mention All-American, and All-American in the one- and three-meter dives. This year, he set a new UAA record for the three-meter dive. His list of athletic accomplishments, of which the above are just a few, is long and impressive. Although it will not be long before his time in college ends, Staab’s name will remain indelibly etched in Chicago’s record books.
Staab’s impact, however, isn’t limited to athletics. He has been just as impressive out of the pool as he has been in it. Each of the past three years, he has been named to the UAA All-Academic team. Last year, too, he earned CSCAA First Team Scholar All-American and UAA Presidents Council Scholar-Athlete Team honors.
But looking back, Staab doesn’t talk much of his individual awards or accomplishments in the pool. Ever the humble athlete and person, he recognizes something else as far more important, far more essential, and far more rewarding: the people he has met, the lasting friendships he has made, and the camaraderie he has experienced.
“It sounds corny, but the best part of my experience here is the people I’ve gotten to know. I have made lifelong connections at UChicago and the friends I have here are people I will always have in my life. We already joke about who’s going to get married first and who’s going to host the best wedding,” says Staab. “Without a doubt, the thing I’ll miss most from an athletic standpoint will be travel meets with the divers. We’re such a crew when we’re together and the team bonding on those trips is almost concerning. We have such a blast.”
So as his time winds to a close, Staab will cherish his remaining moments on campus. Looking to the future, though, he doesn’t plan on staying away from home for too long.
“I applied for the Chicago Booth Scholars Program and have my interview coming up soon. I’ve always planned on getting my M.B.A. at some point and the idea of working for a few years before coming back here to get it is so appealing to me. It would be the perfect continuation of the UChicago education I value so much.”
And so, when Staab graduates, he will forever be a part of UChicago and UChicago will forever be a part of him. To those who want to make the most of the undergraduate experience and to leave a mark, he leaves a word of advice.
“Get involved in something that will make you more than just a student. Everyone here is smart and studious but it’s important to develop an identity beyond that. Be it through athletics, an RSO, or a part-time job, putting yourself out there and finding a passion beyond academics will make your college experience much more meaningful.”