Olympic Diver Greg Louganis Reveals How He Found His Birth Father After Decades of Feeling Abandoned
"We're not living in the past anymore," Olympic diver Greg Louganis tells PEOPLE of his relationship with his birth father
“I needed to know I wasn’t a throw-away child,” Louganis — who is the subject of a new documentary streaming on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network and is featured in the current issue of PEOPLE — says of being adopted and being filled with questions about his birth parents.
Louganis’s birth parents met in Hawaii, but his biological mother moved to San Diego while pregnant and Louganis entered the foster care system at birth. At 9 months, he was adopted by Southern California-based Frances and Peter Louganis, who were unable to have biological children.
Frances, a homemaker, and Peter, the controller of a fishing company, had also adopted a daughter two years before and were always open with their kids about their family history. But the adoption organization had lost Louganis’s files in a fire, and unanswered questions led to troubled times for the young athlete, who started diving at age 9.
“I’d always felt like if my natural parents couldn’t love me, then nobody could. I internalized that and went through a horrible rebellion,” he says. “I was out of control, and I wouldn’t let anyone in.”
With his parents’ support, Louganis reached out to the organization and was told his biological parents had been young when he was born and had no choice in giving him up for adoption.
“That helped ease the question of whether I was loved,” he says.
- For more on Louganis’s adoption journey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Feeling more “at peace” about his family, Louganis turned his focus to diving. At 16, he won silver at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and by the time he was 28, he’d become a four-time Olympic gold medalist.
Among his biggest fans was Fouvale Lutu, who for years had quietly followed his son’s life from afar. When an endorsement event for Speedo brought Louganis to Honolulu in 1984, Lutu decided it was time to meet his first-born son.
“One of the hosts came up to me and said, ‘Your father’s here.’ And I said, ‘My father’s in San Diego,’ ” recalls Louganis. Then he said, ‘No. Your biological father.’ ”
Face-to-face with his son for the first time, Lutu was emotional. “I was very excited but nervous,” Lutu says.
“Like me, he’s a man of few words. But he told me he’d wanted to raise me,” adds Louganis.
The diver learned that Lutu’s brother lived in San Diego and had actually been keeping tabs on Louganis and relaying updates to Lutu, but had stayed silent to protect Louganis’s privacy.
“It was pretty amazing, but I was stunned,” he says. “It wasn’t until I was on the plane to L.A. that I started to have questions.”
Despite his skepticism, Louganis continued to meet with Lutu, who appeared whenever Louganis visited Hawaii.
“He never asked for anything,” says Louganis. “He’s a very gentle and shy man. He just wanted to know if I was okay and that I was happy.”
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After Louganis lost both Peter and Frances following their battles with lung cancer, in 1991 and 2004, respectively, his relationship with Lutu grew closer.
“It was interesting because as the years progressed,” he says, “I saw a lot of similar traits in him that I saw in myself.”
By 2015, Louganis had started communicating with his half siblings and his half brother Malcolm, 55, invited him to a Lutu family reunion that they were planning for this summer.
“I said, ‘Hey, if you want to meet your family, this is what’s happening,’ ” says Malcolm. “Greg was the second guy to send in his RSVP.”
But before the reunion, Louganis says he wanted to put any last bit of doubt to rest. In December 2016 ,he got a DNA test to confirm his biological connection to Lutu.
“Through the years I had gotten to know Fouvale and my [half] brother and sisters, Malcolm and Sherry and Jeralynn. I’d always been skeptical but when I did the DNA testing and found out how we were connected, it validated everything that I knew in my heart,” says Louganis, who, through the DNA test, also discovered the identity of his birth mother. (He spoke to his Northern California-based birth mom for the first time on Mother’s Day and hopes to meet her soon.)
On July 17, Louganis and his husband Johnny Chaillot arrived at Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu for Louganis and Lutu’s first official father-and-son hug. In addition to meeting his extended family for the first time at the reunion, Louganis spent the day with Lutu sharing stories of their past and putting unanswered questions to rest.
“We’re not living in the past anymore,” says Louganis. “I’m excited that now we can focus on being in the present and talk about what’s going on in our lives now.”
He’ll also be spending a lot more time in Hawaii.
“I have family there,” he says, almost in disbelief. “It’s an incredible gift that I’ve been given.”
People Features: Greg Louganis — Finding My Father is now streaming on the People/Entertainment Weekly Network.