September 2007
In a story from the Montreal Star, Herb Zurkowsky paints an interesting and sometimes poignant portrait of Vanier Cheetah Football alum Shaun Diner who's currently playing for the Montreal Alouettes. Read below the full text from the story published on September 21, 2007.

Shaun Diner, who is one of the better-
conditioned Alouettes, spends up to
four hours training on a daily basis.
John Mahoney-The Gazette, File Photo

Click for larger image
Als Diner keeps the faith
League's only Jewish player will go thirsty
today in observance of Yom Kippur

Herb Zurkowsky, Montreal Gazette

It will be like every other day before the game for Shaun Diner. He'll awaken at 5 this morning, leave his home 50 minutes later to arrive at Olympic Stadium by 6:40. Before most people roll out of bed and have their first coffee, Diner will have watched film and spent time in the weight room.

The Alouettes' special-teams member and backup receiver will take the field at about 11 this morning - on an empty stomach. Normally, this fitness freak who neither drinks nor smokes and eats no fast food, would have had a breakfast of oatmeal cereal, a banana and 11 scrambled egg whites mixed with spinach.

And, although the weather again will be unseasonably hot this morning and Diner will run around and sweat, no water will touch his lips. Also, in the most bitter of ironies, he'll watch as his teammates this morning drink coffee and devour cupcakes baked by his mother, Miriam - part of the team's traditional pregame breakfast routine.

Diner is Jewish - the only one in the CFL following the retirement of Toronto defensive-lineman Noah Cantor. Last night at sundown, Jews around the world began their observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It's the holiest day of the year for Jews, many of whom will go without food and water until sunset tonight.

Diner, in his third season with Montreal, caught a break this year; Yom Kippur falling on a walk-through day, the lightest practice day of the week. But the holiday came on a normal practice day his first two years with the team and, as a rookie, the Als worked out indoors in Lachine, where the conditions were hot and dry. That was a struggle, but Diner fought through.

It will be at times like this Diner will think of his grandfather, Henry Fiszman, a concentration camp survivor still living, who will serve as his inspiration.

"I'll imagine the things he went through," Diner said. "Not eating or drinking for a few hours isn't so bad.

"I'll be thirsty, but that's okay. My family will be thirsty at home."

Diner, with some reluctance and at the insistence of his parents, will break the fast early today, perhaps by 2 p.m., and will begin pumping fluids back into his body. The Als entertain the Edmonton Eskimos tomorrow afternoon (1 p.m., TSN, RDS) at Molson Stadium, and Diner owes it to himself, his teammates and coaching staff to be as mentally and physically prepared as possible.

Were the game today, Diner admits he would have played, having eaten and fully hydrated. Fortunately, through his four years at the University of New Hampshire and three in the CFL, a game never has fallen on Yom Kippur.

Born in Chomedey, the middle of three children, Diner was raised conservatively. He's proud of his culture and had a Bar Mitzvah at age 13.

"We're not religious, but we respect the High Holidays," said Diner, 27. "My parents instilled some beliefs, but also provided us with the leeway to make our own decisions.

"I'm proud to be Jewish. Absolutely. I don't consider myself ... I'm not the chosen one by any means. Am I proud that people can look at me and say he's the only Jew on the Als? Of course. But I'm more proud of my parents and grandparents ... what they went through. I'm proud of who I am and where I came from."

Diner was a typical boy growing up, playing competitive soccer and high school basketball. He was always outside, and usually came home with bumps and bruises.

Like most Jewish mothers, Diner's needed some convincing he could play football without risking injury. Coincidentally, he missed the last two games with a hamstring injury.

"When my mom came to the games, saw that I was protected and could handle myself, she felt better," Diner said. "But she's still protective."

The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder remains one of the better-conditioned Alouettes, spending as much as four hours training daily.

It was a difficult day at home when he departed for New Hampshire at age 19. Four years later, and following a third consecutive Atlantic-10 academic all-American honour, he graduated with a 3.74 grade-point average in accounting. Two days after his final game as a senior, Als general manager Jim Popp called, offering a contract. It was signed two days later.

"Playing for the Als is the greatest gift I could have been given. I'm so fortunate," said Diner, who caught three passes last season and also intercepted a ball while playing special teams. "I called my parents and words couldn't come out of my mouth. I heard my mom, screaming and crying.

"It's the greatest gift."

© The Gazette 2007