Olympic silver medalist Michael Hixon finds time to train on Thanksgiving break

  • Michael Hixon practices his diving takeoffs in Boyden Gym on Saturday. The Olympic silver medalist was home for the Thanksgiving break and training with his mother, UMass diving coach Mandy Hixon. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael HIxon selects music during a workout Saturday at Boyden Gym. He played a lot of Big Sean. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon approaches his takeoff while training Saturday at Boyden Gym. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon reviews video of his training session Saturday at Boyden Gym. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon stretches aaginst a wall while Mandy Hixon reviews a binder Saturday in Boyden Gymnasium. Michael went through a series of flexibility exercises and diving drills while Mandy supervised. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon stretches ebfore a workout Saturday at Boyden Gymnasium. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael and Mandy Hixon review one of Michael’s flipping drills at Bodyen Gymnasium on Saturday. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon practices his water entry rip during a Saturday session at Boyden Gym. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon practices his tuck position on a trampoline at Boyden Gym on Saturday. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon loosens his legs as a warmup before a workout Saturday at Boyden Gym. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon warms up on an exercise bike before a workout Saturday at Boyden Gym. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Michael Hixon practices diving flips over plastic pads Saturday at Boyden Gym. GAZETTE STAFF / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Published: 11/26/2016 4:27:40 PM

AMHERST – Michael Hixon stretched against a wall deep in the bowels of Boyden Gym on Saturday. 

He only wore black athletic shorts after taking off his crimson ‘Hoosier Pride’ shirt.

“I don’t think you put any Thanksgiving weight on,” his mother Mandy Hixon said before he started his workout.

“Thanks,” Michael responded with a laugh as Big Sean played from his phone over the room’s speakers.

Michael Hixon, the silver medalist in 3-meter synchronized diving at the 2016 Summer Olympics with Sam Dorman, was home in Amherst for Thanksgiving break. It was just the second time he’s been back to Amherst since the Olympics. He flew back for a quick weekend in late August primarily to throw out a first pitch at Fenway Park before a Red Sox game.

“I was only in Amherst for a day,” Hixon said.

The Thanksgiving holiday break gave him more of a chance to be at home and experience his hometown.

I haven’t been home in a while. I didn’t really get to be home at all last year. So I get to see a lot of people I haven't seen in a while,” he said. “People in Amherst are a little different than everywhere else in the world, really thoughtful.”

Food was one of the first things Hixon sought one he was back. He made the trip to Antonio’s for a steak burrito pizza.

“Avacado quesadilla is a close second,” he said. “You gotta get crazy with it.”

It’s one of the few times all year the entire Hixon family is together. Michael goes to school at Indiana University, where he’s competing in his junior season after taking an Olympic redshirt. Mandy coaches the UMass men’s and women’s diving teams. Her husband, Dave Hixon, is the men’s basketball coach at Amherst College. Matt Hixon, Michael’s older brother, recently moved back to the Pioneer Valley after spending time in Los Angeles.

“It’s just nice having my boys home. Thanksgiving’s my favorite holiday. It’s family again. Both my husband and I miss the boys a lot,” Mandy said. “It’s just great to have everybody together and watching them mature and grow up into fine young men, it’s awesome.”

Saturday’s late-morning workout focused mostly on flexibility, mobility and drill work. Michael went through a series of stretches before practicing standing flips onto a plastic mat. He also worked on his takeoffs from a diving board in the room, occasionally touching the ceiling before dropping onto a foam pad. The trampoline allowed him to hone his form in the air in both the straight and pike positions.

“We talk about what we want to work on. It’s a collaboration, we see how he’s feeling. He’s worked really hard this week, so he’s pretty tired right now. We’re only doing one workout (Saturday) so he’s rested when he gets back to Indiana,” Mandy said. “I prefer just being a mom with them now. When he wants to come in and train, I always give him that opportunity.”

Mandy coached Michael until he left for college.

“A lot of kids go home and they don’t have the same opportunities,” he said. “I come back and it’s like I’m in high school again, training hard with her.”

When Michael returns to Indiana, the Hoosiers will resume competition at the Miami Invitational in Oxford, Ohio, at the start of December. They’re 8-0 this season and ranked second behind NC State.

He won a Big 10 diver of the week award Nov. 9 and qualified for the NCAA championships in both the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events in a win over Michigan State.

“It’s been alright. It’s been interesting coming off of such a really high high in Rio and now it’s sort of like back to dual meets which are definitely not as intense, definitely not as important,” Michael said. “It is nice to be back on the Indiana team, you feel a lot of pride competing for that school.”

Life hasn’t dramatically changed for Hixon in Bloomington since medaling in Rio. People approach, but for the most part they quickly congratulate him and move on.

“I knew I’d come back and my friends would still be my friends, and sure enough they were,” he said.

The Zac Effron comparisons remain, but they’ve always been there for Michael.

My Brotha from anotha 🇺🇸🤘🏼😜 Congrats #MichaelHixon #Rio2016

A photo posted by Zac Efron (@zacefron) on

“People had joked about it with me for a while, well before Rio. I’m not on Twitter or anything so I didn’t really see that blow up, but people were telling me stuff,” Michael said. “I thought it was kind of funny.”

Taking classes has been more of an adjustment.

“I may never graduate,” Michael joked. “All last year it was even easier just no classes. I was just in Bloomington training, and it was nice. Now I’m getting back to classes and stuff, and it’s more stressful. You forget how hard it is to be a student athlete.”

Michael wants to reclaim the NCAA championships in the 1-meter and 3-meter events. He won them as a freshman at Texas then finished second on the 3-meter and fifth on the 1-meter during his first year at Indiana.

“I would love, love to win those back this year. For sure. I definitely didn't have the best NCAAs my first year at Indiana. Now I’m with (Indiana and Team USA coach) Drew (Johansen) I think I’m a much better diver,” Michael said. “It’s interesting, I wasn’t as good a diver when I won my NCAA titles, and I thought I way better and didn’t win. Maybe next year we’ll figure it out.”

He also has the Tokyo games in 2020 in his peripheral vision. The end of the Rio games marked the beginning of another “quad,” or four-year period culminating in the Olympics. This is the part of the cycle to add new skills.

Michael is working on adding a back three-and-half tuck and a front two-and-a-half with three twists. The latter dive clinched the gold medal in synchronized diving for Britain’s Jack Laugher and Chris Mears.

“If we get these two dives, it’ll probably be the last two dives I’ll ever learn,” Michael said. “It’s hard. It’s definitely really, really hard. You take your licks a little bit and it’s a little humbling for sure.”

Learning new dives typically involves a progression from drills to easier dives in the same sequence before eventually attempting the final product.

“We have water belts, like a harness you’re in over the water, my coach will pull me in that,” Michael said. “There’s a multitude of things you can do as far as knowing where you are and being able to make it.”

Most of that work will be done with Johansen in Indiana.

In Amherst, Mandy talks with Michael between stretches about his girlfriend, the friends he saw and if there was anyone else he wanted to spend time with while he was home. She sits cross-legged on top of a plyometric box, both grateful mother and attentive coach.

“I like your chest position through the circle,” she says after one of the standing front flips.”

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