There’s No Keeping Domenik Hixon Down
In many ways, 27 year-old Domenik Hixon’s pro football career thus far can be summed up by a line in a song by the British pop band Chumbawumba’s 1997 hit Tubthumping, that says, “I get knocked down, but I get up again….’cause you’re never going to keep me down…”
Well just try to keep Hixon, the 6-2, 197 lbs. receiver who is attempting to resume his promising football career this season after having had two consecutive ACL knee surgeries, down. Because although he’s been knocked down twice, he’s keeps on getting up, fighting his way back, and is determined to become becoming even better than he was before thanks to a valuable lesson he learned from his mother, Birgit.
Second Time Around
Hixon’s name has never been mentioned among the likes of the NFL top receivers, but if you watch him closely, you’ll see a wide out who is true to his assignments, who rarely makes a mistake, and who is reliable. So reliable and trustworthy is Hixon that in 2008, when then number one receiver Plaxico Burress was suspended after breaking team rules, head coach Tom Coughlin turned to Hixon to be his number one receiver during Burress’ absence.
Hixon went on to reward his coach’s faith in him by going on to catch four passes for 102 yards and one touchdown in what was a 44-6 win over the Seahawks that week.
Hixon, whom the Giants had claimed off waivers in October 3, 2007 from Denver, first gained national attention following an unfortunate collision with Kevin Everett of Buffalo in the Broncos’ season opener that left Everett paralyzed at the time, began his Giants career as the team’s primary kickoff returner, finishing with 12 returns for 274 yards for the Giants. He had his best year as a kickoff returner in 2009, when he returned 57 kickoffs for 1,291 yards.
Coming off a strong 2009 showing, the German-born Hixon would see his fortunes take a hit the following year when a freak, non-contact accident on the Giants’ new home stadium turf during an off-season practice resulted in him needing his first knee surgery.
After tearing his ACL, he went to work to strengthen the joint, his body and his spirit with the hopes of returning on 2011, which he did, a new one-year “prove it” contract in hand.
But lightning struck again. Just two games into the 2011 season, after having regained his roster spot and his punt return duties, Hixon was injured on, of all things, a touchdown reception against the Rams in Week 2, an injury that wiped another promising season away before it could begin.
“I was in shock,” he said during a break in training camp of that second injury. “After doing the entire year of physical therapy the year before, after doing all the rehab, suddenly in that one split second, it was like all that work didn’t matter because it happened again.”
Fortunately for Hixon, the shock of having climbed back to the top of the mountain only to be knocked back down to the bottom wore off rather quickly. He underwent successful surgery to repair the ACL and within a short time afterwards, he threw himself into rehabbing his knee, going as much as the doctors would allow him.
Never Give Up
It’s only natural that when an athlete who relies on his legs to earn his living suffers a devastating injury to the same joint two years ago that he begins to have some serious questions about his life’s calling and his faith. But not Hixon, whose faith in God helped keep him calm and rational in handling this adversity.
“It’s not quite the same, but I kind of drew similarities to Job, in the Bible and how he went through things and overcame them,” he said. “I never once thought, oh, I’m going to blame God for this. Instead I turned to Him to help me get through it. For me, it’s all about perseverance—why it happened really didn’t matter as what I was going to do about it.”
Armed with the strength to take on this latest challenge head on, Hixon found himself drawing added inspiration from a familiar face that was going through a difficult time herself: his mother.
A Fight Bigger Than All
Like most women, Birgit Hixon undergoes an annual physical exam which includes a mammogram screening. It was that screening that delivered the diagnosis that no woman ever wants to hear– breast cancer.
To make matters worse, her diagnosis and ensuing treatments began when her son was trying to get himself right again to resume his football career, which made it even harder on her son who was torn between trying to support his mother and trying to get himself right again for football.
In the end, his mother’s fight taught Hixon a valuable life lesson, and that is no matter what happened to him on the football field, it paled to what his mother and other cancer patients had to go through.And to see his mother fight back against a disease that according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics is the second leading cause of deaths behind lung cancer in women, that quickly put his situation into perspective.
“My mom is amazing,” Hixon said. “When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the first thing she said was, ‘I’m not going to let it beat me. I’m going to make it.’ So here I am going through knee surgery and rehab, which is nothing compared to what she went through with chemo. In watching her battle for her life, I knew that I definitely shouldn’t complain about a knee injury.”
He also drew added support from his mother to fight back in his rehab. “Seeing her say that she was going to beat cancer, I was like, ‘Ok, I’m going to make it too,’ A knee injury is nothing compared to battling cancer, and no matter what, she was there to give me support even if she wasn’t feeling her best.”
With the support of his mother, his dad Marvin, family and friends, Hixon knew he was going to be all right. His first concern, obviously, was his mother, who thankfully went into remission and remains cancer free to this day.
His other main concern was whether the Giants thought he would recover enough to be able to resume his career.
“I didn’t know if I was going to have another opportunity with the team to come back,” Hixon said. “I’m glad they believed in me to give me another chance, and I plan to take full advantage of that.”
Hope for the Future
This time around, Hixon is hoping that his misfortunes – and those of his mother – are buried int he past for good.
“It’s funny because before I got hurt last year, my mom, who was going through treatments, had scheduled all her chemo around my games,” he said. “After I got injured, it broke my heart because she was always looking forward to the game and it was something that always lifted her spirits. So I was devastated because of that, and it still bothers me now thinking about it.”
In looking back, the one positive to emerge from his injury was that he was able to spend more time at home with his mother while she was undergoing treatment. “We always talked about what we were going to do the next year and even in the future,” Hixon recalled. “She always used to tell me that what we were going through was just a stepping stone in life and her positive attitude really inspired me and helped me remember what was most important in life.”
One of the things they spoke about, Hixon said, was his mother getting to see her son play in the NFL again. That’s why Hixon was so driven to give his mother the pleasure she gets from watching him play, that he changed up his rehab and training program this past off-season, the goal to make sure he never has to go through a similar injury again.
So far, his hard work has paid off. When he ran the sprints in the Giants’ conditioning drills on Thursday, he moved like a man who didn’t have multiple knee surgeries. He also has approached every opportunity that he’s had to touch the ball with a renewed sense of appreciation and enthusiasm for the opportunity that he knows not many others get in their lifetime.
However, Hixon knows that nothing is guaranteed. In a battle for the third wide out spot, his competition includes a trio of Giants draft picks – Ramses Barden, Jerrel Jernigan, and Rueben Randle. That’s some steep competition for a player claimed off waivers, but then again, Hixon has never been one to back down from a challenge and has taken on a perspective that helps keep his mind where it needs to be.
“In college we used to say ‘PFG’ – play for God. You try to please all the coaches and the fans, and you can have this turmoil within yourself. But if you play for God, then everyone else will be pleased with your performance.”
One person that will certainly be pleased with his performance, no matter what happens, is his mother.
“She’s planning to be at the games along with my dad and family,” Hixon said. “So these little bumps and bruises that happen along the way? I’m just taking them in stride, figuring that there will be a story to tell one day.
“I’m just blessed to have what I have – my mom’s healthy, my family and friends give me all the support I could ask for and then some. And I have another chance to help a team that believed in me. What more could I ask for?”