Tragedy drives Buscaglia to pursue Olympic dreams 

click to enlarge Gymnast Alex Buscaglia is hoping to qualify for five spots on the U.S. Olympic team in San Jose at the HP Pavilion. - COURTESY STANFORD ATHLETICS
  • courtesy stanford athletics
  • Gymnast Alex Buscaglia is hoping to qualify for five spots on the U.S. Olympic team in San Jose at the HP Pavilion.

Alex Buscaglia built a makeshift gymnasium in his parents’ unfinished basement as a child in Illinois. He’d stack up boxes and then do flips off them; sometimes, he’d wrap himself in a body cushion and summersault down the stairs. Eventually, when Buscaglia was 8 years old, his mother signed him up for gymnastics classes.

Now, the Stanford graduate is one of 15 gymnasts who will compete for five spots on the U.S. Olympic team at HP Pavilion in San Jose starting today.

Despite his early start, Buscaglia, 23, didn’t throw himself into gymnastics full throttle until he needed a refuge from tragedy as a teenager. In December 2003, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and nine months later, she died. Soon after, Buscaglia’s father and brother split for Florida and he and his sister moved into his cousins’ house.

“Through all of that, I just kept going to the gym,” Buscaglia said. “I would go to school and then I’d go to the hospital to see my mom and then I’d go to the gym.”

“It was the one thing I could control — I couldn’t control if the chemo would work, I couldn’t control when the lung cancer metastasized to her spine.”

But his high school grade-point average was close to 4.0 and his skills on the floor, vault and high bar were good enough to land him a spot on Stanford’s men’s gymnastics team.

J.D. Reive, a Cardinal assistant coach from 2003 to 2010, said Buscaglia’s hunger stood out when he arrived on the Farm in 2007.

“He understood it wasn’t just going to be handed to him. I’d say, ‘Hey, Alex, do this five times,’ and he would do it 50 times,” he said.

Buscaglia’s efforts materialized into six All-America honors, two national team championships (2009 and 2011) and an NCAA individual title on the horizontal bar (2011).  

In 2009, Buscaglia qualified for the U.S. senior national team, but he was dropped in February after an epic collapse at the Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas, where he fell on eight of 12 routines.

It wasn’t the confidence-boosting performance Buscaglia wanted heading into Visa Championships on June 7, where he needed to finish among the top 15 of 43 gymnasts to qualify for Olympic trials. But it gave him the opportunity to re-calibrate his mindset.

Instead of getting lost in the pressure, Buscaglia tried to savor the experience. This time, he landed 11 of 12 routines to finish in ninth place.

Buscaglia is approaching trials with the same mentality.

“This is just an experience and the Olympics would be a cherry on top of the experience,” he said.

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Paul Gackle

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