Amherst supports Olympic diver Michael Hixon

  • Luca Brashear, of Amherst Regional, has never met Olympic diver Michael Hixon, but the pair share a hometown and a coach. “I think it’s really amazing to see a small town kid, like Michael, who went to the same high school that I go to, (dive) in the Olympics,” Brashear said. GAZETTE STAFF/FILE

For the Gazette
Published: 8/8/2016 8:10:28 PM

Michael Hixon has gained national recognition and a spot in the Rio Olympics for his diving ability, but it hasn’t been all that long since the 22-year-old was practicing in an Amherst pool.

The Olympian graduated from Amherst high school in 2013, when current Amherst diver Luca Brashear was in eighth grade.

Though they’ve never met, watching Hixon compete at the highest level is “inspirational,” Brashear said. “I think it’s really amazing to see a small town kid, like Michael, who went to the same high school that I go to, (dive) in the Olympics.”

Brashear, who won the Western Massachusetts diving championship in February, said he’s excited to watch the competition.

“I’m excited to see how he does and excited to see what he can pull through with,” he said. “I think he always pulls through.”

Brashear and Hixon have had a few coaches in common. Hixon’s mother, UMass diving coach Mandy Hixon, has coached them both.

“I don’t get to work with her as much as I would like, because she’s very busy with her regular UMass athletes,” Brashear said, calling her “very talented.”

And Brashear’s coach at Amherst, Sean Clark, coached a then 6-year-old Hixon on an Amherst Tritons swim team in the early 2000s.

It was clear even at that early age that Hixon was more interested in diving, Clark said.

“Even then, entering the pool from the starting block was not high enough for him. I could almost see him looking up at the 3-meter board. Even as a little tyke back then, he was comfortable up there and wanted to do more and learn more and be able to do it right.”

Clark had one more clue that Hixon was more of a diver than a swimmer.

“The other thing that was pretty clear was that after the season, he didn’t come back,” he said. “He only swam a summer season, and that was enough actual swimming for him.”

Clark believes Hixon’s opportunity on the highest international stage has an impact on local coaches and athletes.

“If I can use a water pun, (Hixon’s success) ripples through the whole aquatics community, from the age group swimming to even the local colleges and the high schools around,” Clark said. “I think it reinvigorates what we’re doing as coaches and athletes and it really helps us refocus our own efforts on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, trying to become the best that each one of us can be.”

Noah Kramer, a rising senior captain at Amherst Regional, is already feeling that impact.

“It’s very inspirational to see someone from Amherst make it all the way to the Olympics,” Kramer wrote in an email. “His story is a great reminder that hard work and dedication can take you anywhere.”

Hixon’s reach extends elsewhere in Hampshire County.

“I know that my divers will be watching,” said Easthampton swimming and diving coach Carla Soutra.

“It’s really exciting. He’s done really well. Anyone that knows of him locally will watch, and I’m sure they’ll root for him too.”

Soutra also said that Olympic years are typically good recruiting years for high school swimming and diving teams.

“I might have a few more come out for the team,” she said.

Said Northampton diving coach Lou Ann Bierwert, “I hope it does have a side effect like that. Usually the Olympics is a good year for recruiting kids into sports. I think diving is a good place to contribute to the team but also have some individual glory.”

Hixon will compete in two events in Rio — 3-meter springboard and 3-meter synchro with teammate Sam Dorman.

Hixon said that the support he’s gotten from the local community has “meant so much.”

“That’s maybe been the most special part of all of this, is the reaction I’ve gotten from people back home,” Hixon said. “Amherst will always be my home, it doesn’t matter where I go. That’s always where I began my diving career.”

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