Some people have interests and other people have callings. That’s what table tennis is for Adriana Diaz, the #1 ranked table tennis player in America and Latin America. The teenager from Utuado, Puerto Rico began playing at just four years old. To help her learn the sport her father Bladimir made her a child-size table. Her interest was so real she quickly abandoned it for the adult version. By age six Adriana Diaz was competing internationally and winning title after title. Her singular focus paid off this year. In August 2019 Diaz, 19, became the first Puerto Rican to win gold at the Pan American games in Lima, Peru.
Whether you call it ping pong or tennis de mesa, there’s no denying the degree of necessary skill is serious.The incessant plink of the plastic ball is nothing compared to the grunts, throws and skill displayed by competitors like Diaz. You could say the game is in Diaz’s blood. She is a second-generation athlete following in her father, mother and uncle’s footsteps.
Papa Bladimir and his brothers were competitive players and started the town’s only club. It’s no surprise that she and her three sisters–Melanie, Gabriela, Fabiola–took to the sport like fish to water. Realizing his daughter’s potential Bladimir, who trained other kids, became Diaz’s coach as well. He even created a homeschool collective at the club where she takes classes and trains.
“I started homeschooling and it was a big sacrifice for me because I had friends in school,” Diaz said during an online interview. “But to reach my goal, I had to sacrifice because I wanted to play, travel, go to tournaments and in regular school I couldn’t do that.”
Her family is still her biggest why and at the core of what she does. Diaz credits her older sister Melanie, also a competitor, for motivating her to play at the top of her game. It goes without saying that her father is also a huge influence. “He always pushes me a little further because he knows how far I can go,” Diaz has said.
The sacrifice has paid off. She was the first Boricua woman to qualify for the Olympics in table tennis in 2016. She is set to compete again at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Like any other competitive athlete she has big dreams and high hopes; specifically to be among the world’s top 10 players. To date she is ranked #22 by the International Table Tennis Federation. With a calling as deep as hers, and a lifetime to go, there’s no doubt Diaz will meet her goal. And perhaps bring Puerto Rico more Olympic gold!