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If you want to learn the thoughts of a man, follow him on Twitter. If you want to know his character, ask his proud mother.
After meeting Nikki Hightower, I learned first hand where Tim gets his congenial personality. The woman, who Tim introduced to the students at the Play 60 event as his “lifelong hero,” channeled her inner-teacher to talk to the kids about healthy lifestyles. Tim later affectionately admitted that she stole the show.
But at the end of the day, Mrs. Hightower is just a proud mom, who is happy to have her son living nearby again.
“Wow, when he was traded to the Redskins, it took me a moment to get used to the fact that he was coming home,” she said with a smile. “And to see him play for the Washington Redskins–which is our hometown team–was very rewarding. A privilege and an honor as a parent, to see him come back to a team that we know and we love.”
Mom revealed that ironically, although not surprisingly, Tim was a 49ers fan growing up, after being born in Santa Ana, Calif. But growing up in Alexandria, Va., he developed a deep affection for the Redskins as well.
“He watched the Redskins a lot, obviously, and the whole community embraced the team,” she said. “So he couldn’t help but be influenced by the Washington Redskins and their fans. It’s always been ingrained in him: ‘go ‘Skins!'”
On the flip-side of that excitement, Mrs. Hightower was in the stands in Carolina two weeks ago when Tim went down with his season-ending torn ACL. At first she thought he had just been tackled, but her instincts changed quickly after the play.
“I’m used to seeing him get knocked down, or I’m used to seeing him fall,” she explained. “So I assumed that he was getting up. But the moment that I realized that he was down longer than I expected, at first it took my breath away.”
Even two weeks later, her emotions were still present as she walked through her reaction to his injury.
“It took me a second to get my thoughts together and get a hold of myself,” she said. “I just said to myself, ‘Everything will be okay, and try not to panic.’ And I didn’t, but obviously as soon as the game was over, I rushed for the tunnel to find him and to see what had actually happened. It was a very enlightening moment for me.”
Being the mother of a talented running back can be a lot of fun, but for Mrs. Hightower, she’ll never be totally comfortable with watching her son get hit.
“I get somewhat comfortable, because he knows himself, but you never get totally numb,” she said. “I don’t ever wanna get to the place where I feel like he’s invincible. I just pray for his safety all the time, and just expect that with the conditioning and the training that he gets, that he’ll use what he’s been trained to do to keep himself healthy.”
Despite tearing his ACL, a very painful knee injury, Tim still gingerly walked out on stage in front of the children with no crutches. Call him whatever you like, but Tim is tough, and he’s always been that way.
“Very, very, very tough,” his mom said, shaking her head. “I’ve known that since he was a little kid. I used to look at it as stubborn, and I had to learn to channel the way that he would perceive things. He’s always loved a challenge, and he told me, ‘I’m not going to give up coming today, just because I got injured,’ he said. ‘Y’know, if I wasn’t injured, I would be there.'”
And that made all the difference to the 200-plus students in attendance for the assembly.
“It’s that same type of tenacity he plays with when he’s in good health, he decided to take that same energy and use it to motivate others,” she explained. “And that brings back the joy and the strength that he needs to feel uplifted.”
True to form, Tim was in great spirits today, and has embraced his challenging road back to football:
Mrs. Hightower has every reason to be proud of her son.