Former champion diver Jason Cook remembers a young Michael Hixon

  • Jason Cook, a former standout at Amherst Regional and UMass, was coached at UMass by Mandy Hixon, the mother of Rio Olympian and Amherst native Michael Hixon. Cook used to practice with Michael Hixon. GAZETTE FILE


  • Michael Hixon is shown with his mother, Mandy at UMass’ Boyden Pool. Mandy Hixon, UMass’ diving coach, coached her son until he graduated from Amherst Regional. Michael Hixon is competing in two events at the Rio Olympics. GAZETTE STAFF/FILE

For the Gazette
Published: 8/7/2016 5:12:13 PM

When Deerfield Academy aquatics director Jason Cook first heard that Amherst native Michael Hixon had qualified for the Rio Olympics, he was not surprised.

Cook first saw Hixon dive when he was a freshman for the UMass men’s swimming and diving team. Cook was being coached by Mandy Hixon, Michael’s mother. The younger Hixon, who was in eighth grade at the time, was often at practice as the two shared the diving board at Boyden Gymnasium.

“It was almost destined for him,” said Cook, who was a four-time state champion at Amherst Regional. “We dove in the same practices and at the same meets in club diving. He was one of those kids where you watched him and over the years, you could just tell he was going to do great things and that he was going to go to the Olympics.”

Mandy Hixon, Cook said, “is one of the best coaches out there.”

Cook said she didn’t treat her son any different than her collegiate divers.

“She pushed Mike just like she pushed everybody else,” Cook said. “But when it came down to Mike, he pushed himself further.”

Michael Hixon’s determination gave him an edge, Cook said, even diving alongside college athletes as a high schooler.

But where Cook’s UMass team would have one practice per day, the future Rio Olympian took it a step or more further.

“Mike would push himself further and do two or three practices (a day), or a couple more practices on the weekend,” Cook said.

When Cook and his teammates would get to the pool, he said Hixon “was already there. He was very determined and he, as you can see, did well.”

Though Hixon was only in high school, Cook remembers learning difficult dives alongside him, including forward and reverse one-and-a-halfs.

“Back then, diving with him, we were almost just competing against each other,” he said. “He learned something new, I learned something new.”

Diving alongside each other gave the Amherst Regional alums motivation to improve, especially when it came to learning new dives.

According to Cook, fear can be a setback for divers learning new and challenging dives.

“One of the biggest things that holds divers back is the fear of smacking, the fear of getting hurt,” he said.

Smacking refers to when divers hit the water incorrectly, causing a stinging pain.

Mandy Hixon had a strategy for motivating divers to overcome that fear and try new dives, according to Cook.

“We used to have this thing when we were younger where she would almost bribe us a little bit with candy,” he said. “When we got a dive or attempted a dive we’d get some candy after practice or before the next practice.”

Cook said any candy would have worked to motivate him, but Mandy Hixon had a favorite.

“I think it was Mike and Ikes, if I’m not mistaken,” Cook said.

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