Thursday, June 28, 2012

Alex Buscaglia...and the Two-Minute Drill

Typically when people face adversity and use sports to help them overcome, it is one tragic event that occurs. Not a series of tragic events. For Alex Buscaglia one tragic event was just the first domino to fall. First his mom died of cancer, then his dad left him and his sister, then his brother left, and then he was forced to move. All of this happened within a short time period when in he was in high school and any of these would be enough to make you give up and quit on everything, including the sport you love. But not Alex…he preserved against all the odds.

Alex concentrating on rings.
He qualified for the Junior Olympic National Championships in 2005 and 2006 and was recruited by one of the top collegiate programs in the nation—Stanford. And, while at Stanford Alex’s accomplishments grew to include:
·         Two NCAA team titles (2009 and 2011)
·         Six-time All-American
·         College Gymnastics Association Gymnast of the Week for the final week of the 2011 season
·         Team title at the 2010 Pan American Championships and first on the horizontal bar
·         Second in horizontal bar at 2011 Winter Cup Challenge
…and numerous US National Qualifier firsts and seconds in horizontal bar, vault, and floor exercise.
I spent some time with Alex prior to the US Gymnastic Olympic Trials to learn more about his journey.

PJ: What draws you to gymnastics?
Alex: My mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 when I was 14 years old. And, she died nine months later in 2004. She got me started in gymnastics…she pushed me every day. On days I didn’t want to go, she’d say…go back one more day and see how you feel. In gymnastics you can control how much you push yourself. Life is uncertain…gymnastics was the one thing I could control. I couldn’t control my mom dying. I couldn’t control my dad leaving. I couldn’t control my brother leaving. I couldn’t control moving. And, for right now I can still control how much effort I put in.

PJ: What will you remember most about competing at Stanford?
Alex: The environment in general at Stanford…it was not to expect too little of myself. I didn’t have only one area of focus. I was in a better mental place in the gym because I was not thinking about gymnastics all the time. I had tests to take. My coaches and teammates pushed me. Greatness is expected here. It is an enriched, high-level environment. You want to be the best you can be…this shaped my time here.

The NCAA is not about personal achievement, it’s about the team. In our senior class there were five of us who led us to Stanford’s 100th National Championship. So many teams during that 2010-2011 season had the opportunity to win No. 100, but couldn’t do it. When our time came, we seized the opportunity. That is etched in my mind.

PJ: In 2011 you won the NCAA title on the horizontal bar and in 2010 at the Pan American Games you won the gold. Why do you think you excel in this event?
Alex: I’ve been asked that before and I really don’t know how to answer it. I don’t spend more time there. Although, what I think actually made me good is that I am not very naturally strong. I think not having natural strength makes me work harder and helps me excel.

PJ: What do you think about during a routine?
Alex: Before a routine, my mind is racing. What do I remember after? Not really anything. During I think about my breathing, that’s it. I read this book…Internal Warrior about a gymnast. His mind was the most quiet…in the arena…when he was competing. At that point, you’ve done all the practicing and you switch to an automatic mode. Not “trying” to do well, because when you try you make a mistake.

PJ: How does it feel to have made the Trials and be competing for a spot on the Olympic team?
Alex: It’s hard to describe. You work so hard and dream of the Olympics when you are younger. There are so many steps along the way. And, great gymnasts get cut. You don’t think about that when you are younger. I feel so privileged to be in any discussion about the Olympic team. To compete at the Trials with 15 people, every four years and so many people have come before you. It’s humbling that I am 1 of 15 people. This alone is a dream.

PJ: You had a rough outing at the Winter Cup Challenge, then came back and finished well at the Visa Championships to make it into the Trials. What happened and how were you able to turn things around?
Alex: I took last year off from finishing school to give this dream a real shot. Having all that time off, not having distractions was hard for me to adjust to. There was nothing to take my mind off gymnastics. It was challenging. I only had gymnastics…that was it. I think I hit only 4 of 12 routines at Winter Cup. I changed my [training] routine…I competed in London at a large international competition, an Olympic test event [filling in at the last minute], came back and was at camp four days later, then Winter Cup was a week later. I think I was mentally strained and kind of collapsed. I knew something wasn’t right. After that I realized…this is it. I won’t be around in four years to try for Rio. My career is coming to a close, whether I make the Olympics or not. At Visa I was excited to be there. In all the videos you will see me smiling after all my routines. I was one of 45 to 50 people to compete for the Trials. That’s what really drove me from February’s Winter Cup to now.

PJ: What is your mindset now, going into the Trials?
Alex: We are going from 15 people to 5…even to be an alternate is a huge deal. Taking a note from Buddha, I am going to be in the arena…be there…not be two weeks down the road possibly at the Olympics. I am going to enjoy the atmosphere. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to be there. I am going to enjoy it.