By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
At an age when many young men might have fallen into bad habits and spiraled out of control, Stanford grad Alex Buscaglia stuck with the things he loved most and worked diligently to achieve his goals.
Buscaglia, who lost his mother, Vera, to cancer when he was 15, is on the verge of making the U.S. Olympic men's gymnastics team. He's one of 15 members of the senior team in contention for one of five spots for the 2012 London Olympics.
Stanford grads David Sender and Josh Dixon are also in the mix and all three will compete at the Olympic Trials, which will be held at HP Pavilion in San Jose beginning June 28.
Buscaglia, who turned 23 in May, said it "was like a darkness in high school and I didn't know how to get out of it," when his mother passed. To complicate matters, there were financial issues and his house was sold to pay off debts.
His father and brother, both bi-polar, moved to Florida. He has not seen or spoken to either of them since his mother's funeral.
Buscaglia always had school, gymnastics, an older sister (Ashley) and cousins who helped him along the way.
"I kept going to the gym because it was one thing I could control," Buscaglia said. "Even when I was sore and didn't want to work out, I kept at it. I didn't want to regret anything. This is more validation of what effort and desire can produce."
When he moved in with his cousins, it was an extra two hours out of his day to travel back and forth from home to school to the gym and back. He got used to juggling school work and gymnastics in a 14-15 hour day.
"I didn't have time to become a delinquent," he said. "There was never enough time in the day."
When he qualified for the U.S. Senior National Team at the VISA National Championships in St. Louis last weekend, uncle Vie, aunt Cyn, cousins Michelle and Tony and his sister were all there to see it happen.
"They were my main support system and helped me through the biggest part of my life," Buscaglia said. "They helped me get to this place. Anybody who had a lasting influence on my childhood were there."
He emerged from his "darkness" a stronger man and while he occasionally looks back, he doesn't dwell on it.
"Just like a friend who does something negative, you want them back," Buscaglia said. "I wish I had a father, but I never got to know him."
Buscaglia, who earned his biomechanical engineering degree, was part of Stanford's 100th NCAA title in 2011 and the communal feeling of that squad remains firmly entrenched within him.
"The whole year we did not want to let it slip away," Buscaglia said. "The senior class did not miss a single routine. To see everyone working together and all truly wanting to be there, we wanted to win a championship together. I'm grateful we did not let it slip away."
The Olympic Trials are another opportunity he doesn't want to let slip away.
Buscaglia, Sender and Dixon earned their spots on the senior national team with their performances in St. Louis. Buscaglia scored 174.550 on all-around, placing ninth. Sender was 11th with a 173.550, Dixon finished 13th with a 172.950 and Stanford grad Ryan Lieberman was 15th with a 172.650.
"I had to hold all this in because I was picturing the outcome and how it would feel," Buscaglia said. "It's surreal to be in this position."
Cardinal redshirt freshman Sean Senters took the title on vault, sharing it with Jacob Dalton, with a score of 32.400. Stanford junior Eddie Penev finished third in the event, while Sender was fifth and Buscaglia ninth. Cardinal grad Sho Nakamori also competed at the championships.
"I'm excited, yes, but more humbled and honored that the selection committee deemed me worthy enough to place me in the elite group of 15 guys who even get the opportunity to compete at our Olympic Trials," said Dixon, a native of San Jose. "There's still a lot of work to be done and improvements to be made."
The top six all-around performers automatically qualified for the Olympic Trials. Nine others were selected to join them. Sender, in particular, increased his value with superb efforts on the vault, rings and parallel bars.
The nine-time All-American retired from gymnastics following the 2009 VISA championships to focus on grad school at Illinois. Sender was the 2008 U.S. all-around champion but a bum ankle kept him off the Olympic team.
"This is my last try," Sender said. "To make it back after announcing I was training again in September, to do well at Winter Cup and here, it will at least give me a little bit of confidence that I belong here. I am going to have to make a better showing than I did today to really prove that I deserve to be on that team."
Buscaglia has been working out at Stanford under Cardinal assistant coach and 2004 Olympian Brett McClure, in preparation for his bid for the Olympics.
"I know I probably am not going to go for another four years," Buscaglia said. "This was it. Go out there and do what you can do and leave it all on the floor and see what happens."
In junior competition, Stanford incoming freshman Jonathan Deaton finished fifth all-around with a score of 165.350 and was named to the U.S. Junior National Team.
Deaton finished second on the floor and third on the vault. He also finished among the top 10 in pommel horse and horizontal bars.
His Olympic dreams are yet to come.