When Alex Monsivaiz attended junior high in Denver, he was on the fast track to nowhere.
"Looking back, if I would have stayed in Denver, I probably would have dropped out of school as a sophomore, maybe even as a freshman," said the senior at Army-Navy (Carlsbad, Calif.)
, who is currently among the national leaders in the 800 after clocking a time of 1 minute, 50.47 seconds at the Arcadia Invitational. "I had behavioral and grade problems. I would not comply with the system."
So his mother, Belinda Monsivaiz, made a bold decision. She would move to Los Angeles and send her rebellious son off to the most disciplined school she could find.
"I didn't agree, I didn't want to leave my friends and go to a whole new state where I didn't have family," recalled Monsivaiz. "Even with the beach right there and everyone being supportive, it took me more than a month to accept it. My mother had told me if I didn't like it, after a year I could change schools."
Army-Navy Academy, which is not affiliated with the military but whose president is Steve Bliss, Brig. General of the U.S. Army, retired, is the only boarding school in all of San Diego County. It requires the cadets (enrollment 232, boys only) to wear uniforms. The 101-year-old campus near the Pacific Ocean is immaculately clean; formations follow a bugle call and at $35,000 a year, a quality education is virtually assured.
Monsivaiz slowly came around, never really giving a thought to just walking away from the campus that has open gates and low, pristine white adobe-type walls surrounding it. He quickly adjusted, eventually embracing the discipline. His grades went from a 1.8 in junior high to his current 4.0, and that has allowed him to accept a track scholarship to UCLA, where he will be coached by America's all-time fastest half-miler, Johnny Gray.
"None of that would have happened if I'd stayed in public school in Denver," admitted Monsivaiz, a 6-foot-3, 150-pounder whose goals now are a college education and running faster than the San Diego section record of 1:50.15.
"Not only did my behavior change, I changed as a person. I loved being at Army-Navy. I have coaches here who inspired me right from the start when I wasn't very good."
As a freshman, the first time he was coaxed into running a mile for the school that doesn't even have a track, using a nearby community college instead, he ran a 5:35. By the league meet he was down to 4:45, finishing fourth.
At that point he figured his lifelong passion, basketball, was his future. By the time his senior year came along, not only the basketball coaches but Monsivaiz himself realized his real talent was running around the track. Not four times, but half that many.
Having clocked a 1:55.03 as a junior, he knew that to get a solid base, he'd have to run cross country.
"The first time I ran 3 miles, I threw up," he said. "I couldn't feel my legs. But by the end of the season I was the only one on my team to qualify for state."
More than that, he got the foundation that allowed him to run scorching first laps and still hold on to take the early state lead at 1:54.74 and then lower it to that 1:50.47 at Arcadia where he finished fourth after uncharacteristically holding back.
"That's one race I'd like to run over again," said Monsivaiz, who still leads the state but is looking to dip under that 1:50 mark in the state meet this weekend in Clovis, Calif.
Someone who believes he'll not only do that but much, much more before he finishes is UCLA's Gray.
"He can be one of the greatest half-milers who walked the earth," said Gray, never known for understatement. "He reminds me of myself — he's tall and has spindly long legs. I saw him at two UCLA camps and he had this incredible smoothness in his stride. And, he was doing workouts my college runners couldn't do.
"At his age I was a 2:17 half-miler but he executes like I did later. He doesn't believe in holding back, so he'll fit my philosophy of ‘If you don't give it up, you can't make it up.' He loves to lead and knows there is no rest stop in an 800."
Making things even better, Gray also signed Centennial High (Las Vegas) half-miler Nick Hartle (1:49.91).
"Not to brag, but it's a world-class group and it's a tactic we can use in practice and meets," said the four-time Olympian who still holds the American 800 record at 1:42.60. "I see them both running 1:43 or faster before they're done. I'm very excited for Alex."
Monsivaiz, who is ASB president and in charge of a group of seventh and eighth graders in a leadership class, is pretty pleased, too, and said Gray's early encouragement made it easy to decide to sign with the Bruins when, after Arcadia, almost every major program in America came calling.
Now, he is focused on cracking that 1:50 barrier, even if he has to do it solo. He didn't run 800s after Arcadia, tossing in 1,600s and a 49.39 in the 400, and will just run that one event at the state meet.
"Actually, I want to run the best ever in San Diego," said a smiling Monsivaiz, noting that in 1964, Madison (San Diego) star Bob Hose ran a 1:49.2 for 880 yards — which converts to 1:48.64. "That time at Arcadia was early in the year, I'm in a much better place now."
Literally and physically.
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