How US diver Jordan Windle made his way from Cambodian orphanage to world stage at Tokyo Olympics

·7 min read

As a baby Jordan Windle was found in a basket outside the gates of the Chom Chao Women and Children's Vocational orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Now, the 22-year-old is the first diver of Cambodian descent to compete in the Olympics.

From being placed in an orphanage as a baby to being adopted and brought to the United States, Windle has experienced it all: the struggle, the drive, the ambition, the opportunity and now, the Olympics.

Windle is set to compete in the 10-meter platform semifinals Saturday in Tokyo (Friday night in the U.S.).

Here is a spotlight on the Olympic diver's journey:

From Cambodia to the United States

Jerry Windle adopted Jordan was he was 18 months old. Jerry said he was sitting in a doctor's office reading a magazine and waiting to speak with a physician, who was running late from surgery.

In the magazine, he came across an article about a man who had adopted a child from Cambodia. Jerry, who was single and gay, wanted the opportunity to have a child of his own.

"One of my desires from a very early age was to be a father. I always wanted to be a dad," Jerry Windle told USA TODAY Sports. "When I discovered that single people could adopt from Cambodia, that was the route that I took."

TEXT WITH US AT TOKYO OLYMPICS: Subscribe to texts, where we’ll be your official guide to the Games

TEAM USA MEDAL COUNT: Full list of American medals in Tokyo

He called the number of an adoption service listed at the bottom of the article and asked if single parents could adopt children. The service said yes, so he asked for information on how the process for adoption worked.

"I was a military officer prior and I had a strong affinity to Cambodia because of the atrocities that happened with the Khmer Rouge and what happened during the Vietnam War," Jerry said.

"And so I just felt a really strong connection with the country and what they went through, and I thought if I could have the opportunity to give a child a home, I could be doing something that not only was fulfilling my dream of becoming a dad, but also doing something for a very war-inflicted country and poverty-inflicted country, especially following the Khmer Rouge."

When the Cambodian orphanage sent him a picture of Jordan, Jerry said he fell in love.

"The moment I saw him in his picture, his eyes were watery and his lips were dry. He was staring right at me through the photo," Jerry said.

Jerry Windle adopted Jordan at 18 months old.
Jerry Windle adopted Jordan at 18 months old.

The nannies in the orphanage named him "Pisey," which translates to "little darling" in English.

"They said they did that because he was a very tactful child who liked to be cuddled, and he always wanted someone to hold him," Jerry said.

To ensure that Jordan wouldn't be afraid of leaving the orphanage, Jerry took a small photo frame and put his picture on one side and Jordan's picture on the other and attached a string to create a necklace.

"I sent it to the orphanage and asked them if they could give him this necklace and talk to him about his daddy and how his daddy's going to come and bring him home one day," Jerry said.

When he first saw Jordan in person, Jerry said that what struck him was how small Jordan was for being almost two years old. Jordan also had several infections.

"There was just a lot of things that Jordan went through as a young child," Jerry said. "And I made a promise to him the moment that I held him that I would do everything in my power to make sure he would have the best life that a human being could have."

The nannies in the orphanage named Jordan "Pisey," which translates to 'little darling' in English, because he always wanted to be held or cuddled.
The nannies in the orphanage named Jordan "Pisey," which translates to 'little darling' in English, because he always wanted to be held or cuddled.

The start of Windle's diving career

Living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jerry put his 7-year-old son in an aquatics camp while he worked in a hospital over the summer.

On the first or second day of the camp, the coaches let the campers jump off the one-meter diving board and play in the pool. Jordan caught the eye of Tim O'Brien, who was the head coach of the program at the time.

O'Brien's dad, Ron O'Brien, had been Greg Louganis' Olympic diving coach and coached Team USA over the course of eight Olympics.

"Tim said I should get Jordan into his diving program," Jerry said. "He said, 'You need to get this child into diving. He will be a national champion one day. He may even be an Olympian one day.'

"He said that looking at Jordan reminded him of Greg Louganis, and he said Jordan's got the perfect body for a diver. He had the spatial awareness to know where he was in the air when he was jumping off the diving boards and he just looked really good going into the water."

At 7, Jordan Windle started diving in an aquatics fun camp and was spotted by several coaches for his talent.
At 7, Jordan Windle started diving in an aquatics fun camp and was spotted by several coaches for his talent.

Evan Lisette, one of Jordan's early coaches in the program, told USA TODAY Sports that Jordan showed he had the courage to persevere and usually did that with smiles and laughs with other teammates.

"Every diver is different both physically and mentally," Lisette said. "Physically he had strength and gracefulness. As he’s developed, he is just so fluid. Mentally, he was a go-getter and wanted more."

The Windles moved to Indianapolis, where Jordan practiced at the National Training Center, and then to North Carolina, where he then trained under Nunzio Esposto, the head diving coach at Duke University.

"It is every coach's dream to coach a kid that is just passionate about his sport," Esposto told USA TODAY Sports. "Jordan was a lot of fun to coach and obviously very, very talented.

"He was constantly helping other athletes with their diving, and there was a short stint where he helped me coach some of the younger kids with the lesson program that I have. And so just all of that is pure love of the sport."

Esposto said Jordan is very driven, knowing exactly what was going on with his body while it was in the air.

"Whenever he would come out of the water, I would say something to him and he's like, 'Yeah, I felt that' or sometimes he would say to me, 'This is what was wrong with it,' and he was right on point," Esposto said.

'It was magical': The Olympian today

When Jordan qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, his coaches were delighted.

"As I watched it live on TV, I just remember standing up and putting my hands on my head, just as his father, Jerry Windle, did," Lisette said. "Followed by absolute goosebumps with the realization that Jordan just earned the title Olympian. Pure excitement and a few tears of joy."

Jerry Windle says he cherishes every moment spent with his son and will always make Jordan his number one priority.
Jerry Windle says he cherishes every moment spent with his son and will always make Jordan his number one priority.

Jerry said his biggest fulfilment and enjoyment is being able to raise, guide and love a child and give him opportunities.

"It was so natural for me to be a parent that it didn't feel like people saying I made sacrifices and I did this and I did that," Jerry said. "Really, all I did was give him an opportunity and open doors, so that he could become the best human being and global citizen that he could be."

Transparency and openness are important for Jerry, and as Jordan was growing up, Jerry says he would teach his son about Cambodian culture and background.

"I always wanted Jordan to have transparency, because I didn't want to have unanswered questions when he was an adult," Jerry said. "And so I shared with him from the very beginning his birth story and his adoption story."

Jerry said he cherished every moment he has spent with his son.

"Establishing a bond and a relationship with Jordan, I bonded almost immediately. It was magical," Jerry said. "Jordan has and always will be, until I drop my last breath, my priority as a human being."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jordan Windle: From Cambodian orphanage to Olympic diver