Degree of Difficulty – Diving from a Parents’ Perspective

KNOXVILLE, TN - August 16, 2014: Michael Hixon during the 2014 USA Senior Diving National Event at Allan Jones Aquatic Center in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Matthew S. DeMaria
Photo Courtesy: Matthew S. DeMaria

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By Michael J. Stott

It is in the afternoons at NCAAs when diving takes center stage. During three meter prelims I went looking for some diving parents so I could get a better meet perspective through the eyes of an aquatic community that many times plays second fiddle to swimmers.

Trolling the stands I hit the jackpot – or should I say the motherlode. Zeroing in on a male glued to his handheld device and an animated female I was sure I found prototypical dive parents. “You look like dive parents,“  I offered.

“We are,” came the response. I had found Mandy and David Hixon, mother and father of Olympic silver medalist (with Sam Dorman in the men’s synchronized 3m springboard) and two-time NCAA 1 and 3 meter champion Michael Hixon of Indiana. Both parents are coaches. David is the men’s basketball coach at Amherst College and Mandy is the men’s and women’s dive coach at University of Massachusetts. Mandy was a two-time NCAA All-American at Ohio State and competed in 1984 Olympic Trials.

She was also Michael’s dive coach until he went to college, initially at the University of Texas, where he won his two springboard titles. Early on Michael was a talented athlete, quarterback, point guard, middie in lacrosse. It was in ninth grade when he committed to diving full time realizing that size (5’7”) was going to restrict his stick and ball horizons.

“Divers seem to have different personalities,” I said.

“They do. They’re a little bit crazy, aren’t they?” agreed Mandy. “From the start they are kind of flippy, twisty kids. They are the ones who climb out of their cribs when they are younger. It takes a really good athlete to be a diver,” she said. “You can’t have a level of fear. You have to step beyond it. Divers have to want to do that. It is what separates them from doing diving or not.”  That and a grounding in excellent fundamentals.

“Michael came along really quickly. He had a great work ethic and was willing to work hard to get to the next level. Thursday night on the 1 meter I am sure he would have liked to have won,” said Mandy “but he missed his reverse. Second place isn’t bad at the NCAAs but he would always like to win,” she said. Friday night Hixon finished fifth with 455.35 points on the 3 meter after qualifying third. Only a subpar second dive kept him from notching second behind Tennessee’s Steel Johnson with 502.20.

Hixon was originally recruited out of high school by Duke, and now Indiana coach, Drew Johansen. When Johansen moved to Indiana Hixon transferred from Texas to Bloomington. “It was his number one reason,” said Mandy. “He felt Drew was technically and technologically excellent and they have the right mentality together. The really work well,“ she said. He thought Michael could make the Olympic team which Michael wanted very much. It has been his dream since ninth grade. He has always wanted to be the best.”

“Whatever he does we’re proud of him.” As for meeting his own expectations mom reports that that winning a silver medal in Rio was pretty special. “I think he has set new goals,” she says, goals which include besting the Chinese in Tokyo whom he respects but considers beatable.”

When asked if she ever got nervous before his competitions., Mandy responded “Oh yeah.”

“We try not to show it,” said David. “His focus is on the deck. We’re just here to cheer him on.”

“I just want him to be happy. I’m just trying to be a good parent now,” says Mandy.

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