Michael Hixon has gotten far more out of his Olympic success than a silver medal
Michael Hixon knows you think he looks like Zac Efron.
The 22-year-old from Amherst, Massachusetts, has understood that people see a resemblance between him and the Hollywood actor long before winning an Olympic silver medal in men’s synchronized diving (3m springboard) during the Rio Games, and long before he and Efron took a photo together in Rio that was featured on Efron’s Instagram.
In fact, Hixon’s friends at Indiana University diving camp would joke with him and try to get him to perform High School Musical songs as Efron during the talent portion of camp every summer. Last summer, Hixon obliged and performed “We’re All In This Together” from High School Musical.
Hixon says that he and synchro partner Sam Dorman were chatting about how the latter—who is a professional and can make money off the sport—could “get his name out there.”
“We were just joking,” Hixon tells GOOD, “and we said for me, if I were a pro, I would try to get something off of [looking like] Zac Efron—how would I reach out to him.”
Then came the men’s 200.
“It just so happened that we ran into each other at the track while we were both there watching Usain Bolt,” he says.
And so came the photo.
Hixon, who is a ball of energy when preparing for a dive during competition, purports to be much lower key when not near the water. “I would say that I am much calmer outside of the pool than I am at training,” he says. “I dedicate most of my time to school and diving, so beyond that I try to relax as much as I can.”
It was a while before he got the chance. Hixon’s post-medal ride continued back in the States, as he—alongside five other Olympians born or living in New England—threw out the first pitch on August 28 at Fenway Park ahead of the Red Sox’s game against the Royals, which was televised on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”
“Every kid in Massachusetts grows up watching the Sox and to actually get on the field at Fenway was beyond my wildest dreams,” Hixon told the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
“You always think of Fenway Park as the coolest ballpark in America,” he tells GOOD. “My dad has been a Sox fan his whole life, so for him to be on the field was pretty awesome.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything that cool in my life.”
Long before winning a silver medal, hobnobbing with Hollywood heartthrobs, and taking the field at his beloved Fenway, Hixon inherited his love of diving from his mother. Mandy Hixon is the longtime head men’s and women’s diving coach at the University of Massachusetts, where she is entering her 16th season. (Hixon’s father David is the legendary men’s basketball coach at Amherst College, giving Michael quite a sports pedigree.) Michael Hixon started going to his mother’s practices at a young age and eventually caught the itch. He couldn’t just watch anymore. He wanted to dive, too.
And he dove well, winning or medaling at multiple national and international tournaments throughout his junior and high school career. He then won two NCAA Championships as a college freshman at Texas en route to being named the NCAA Diver of the Year.
It was during this highly successful year at Texas that Hixon began to grasp his potential to “get to the next level” in diving. So he shocked many observers and transferred to Indiana to dive with Team USA diving coach Drew Johansen, who made Hixon “believe the Olympics, as well as a medal, were attainable.”
But potential is just that, and transferring was just a step toward fulfillment of that potential. According to Hixon’s close friend Allie Mata, Hixon routinely would get up an hour before early morning workouts to get extra cardio work in.
“He made a huge decision when deciding to transfer and he did that because he knew it was what was best for him,” Mata says. “He worked harder than anyone in the country to make that team and deserved every second of it.”
The hard work paid off in Rio, with Hixon qualifying for the finals in the 3m springboard and synchronized 3m springboard, winning silver in the latter with Dorman. Then, of course, came the Efron-related notoriety and the night at the ballpark.
It’s easy for Mata to be happy for Hixon. Asked for three words to describe her friend, Mata says, “Loyal, passionate, deserving. And humble. Sorry, I couldn’t pick three. We love him to pieces.”
Back to Work
Now Hixon is back home again in Indiana, embracing his regular grind of classes and diving practices in Bloomington. In fact, it’s helping him avoid the post-Olympics depression some athletes deal with following the games.
“The Olympics is quite a grind in itself,” he says. “It’s a month long, you’re living in—you know, it’s not a five-star hotel. You’re not eating at five-star restaurants.
“It's a grind. You’re obviously happy to be there because it’s this grand stage and what you live for, but I’m really happy to be back. I love the routine, I love Bloomington, I love school with my friends.”
Hixon notes that he’s not anything special at Indiana. He hardly gets recognized in classes or on the street, and he hasn’t gotten any special treatment. His first practice back with his Indiana diving team didn't include any special celebrations or pranks. The Hoosiers, in fact, had 11 swimming and diving Olympians, including Lilly King—five of whom won medals in Rio. “We had [Lilly] out there wagging her finger at people,” he jokes. “I’m not even that big of a deal around here.”
Hixon has every intention of returning to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He hopes to qualify for the same events in which he competed in Rio—the men’s synchronized 3m springboard and men’s 3m springboard. And that, of course, will require more of the work ethic he displayed while training for the 2016 Summer Games.
“The top level of diving is as physically demanding as any sport out there,” he says. “I’m really excited to get back to training. We have a lot of goals to start attacking for this upcoming Olympic quad.”
In the meantime, he has a lot to look forward to on land, most notably serving as best man at his best friend’s wedding next month in Kansas City. And he even has diving to thank for that. Hixon met Darian Schmidt, who is engaged to Allie Mata, six years ago when they began diving together in synchro competitions. Schmidt is three years older than Hixon and was still finishing up his degree at Indiana when Hixon transferred there.
“If I know Allie, their wedding will be a way better party than the Olympic village,” he jokes.
The spotlight will not be Hixon’s on that October night, but based on how highly he speaks of his friends, it’s clear there’s no place he’d rather be.
Not even at Fenway Park.