U.S. Olympic Diver Was Adopted from Orphanage at 18 Months by Single Gay Dad: 'An Amazing Journey'

Jerry Windle had wanted to be a father for as long as he could remember — and then he heard about a little boy who needed a home

For years, whenever Jordan Windle was diving, he would look down and out at the stands for his dad, Jerry.

But on Saturday in Tokyo, as Jordan competes in the men's 10m platform at a Summer Olympics still under threat from COVID-19, he'll be surrounded by almost entirely empty seats.

"I can usually hear [my dad] out of everyone in the audience, which is awesome," he told Today recently. "I wish he was there, but that doesn't really change what I'm going there to do: to have fun, show off a little bit and put on a show for everyone. That's going to be my intention and I'm hopefully going to make him proud."

It isn't the first time father and son have been separated by thousands and thousands of miles.

Jordan was 18 months old when Jerry Windle adopted him from Cambodia. Jerry, a retired Navy officer then living in Florida, had come across the opportunity by chance while browsing a magazine and spotting an article about a similar story.

It resonated deeply: Jerry, who is gay, had "wanted to be a dad for as long as I could remember," he has said.

What's more, he told a reporter in 2012, "Being a military officer, we did a lot of study in college of the Vietnam War. The atrocities that were committed in Cambodia during the Vietnam War struck a chord with me."

After he spotted the magazine story, Jerry reached out to officials in Cambodia and soon enough got life-changing news.

Jordan Windle
Jerry Windle (right) with son Jordan. Jordan Windle Instagram

"They said that they wanted [Jordan] to be my son, and they thought that he would be the perfect match with me based on my home study and my personality," Jerry said in 2018. "I saw his picture, and I immediately fell in love with him."

In June 2000, Jerry flew to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where Jordan had been living in an orphanage for a year since his birth parents died.

Years later, Jerry vividly remembered how the nannies brought the toddler named Pisey to meet him wearing a "baseball outfit" and "little tiny baby green tennis shoes" that dwarfed his feet.

"My heart just came up through my chest and into my throat," Jerry said in 2018.

Jordan, who kept his Cambodian name (which means "little darling") as a middle name, recalled then how when he saw his dad, "the first thing I started doing to him was I started grabbing his cheeks. I would squish his cheeks and stuff. It was just kind of a comfort thing."

Returning home to the U.S., there were challenges for the new family — Jordan had various health issues, including malnourishment and scabies, and communicated with Jerry by sign language before learning English.

But there was already so much love.

"My greatest hope for Jordan is that he finds happiness throughout his life, and that he has the opportunity to pursue his dreams," Jerry said in 2014.

Jordan Windle
Jordan Windle. Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Jordan Windle
Jordan Windle. Matteo Ciambelli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

"If it's in Jordan's future to go to the Olympics representing the United States and win a gold medal," his dad said then, "that would be amazing."

Seven years later, Jordan is competing for just that: The boy who took up diving by chance at a summer camp when he was 7 years old and who went on to be the youngest diver to make it to the Olympic trials is now, at 22, competing for Team USA.

"He has beautiful lines," one of his coaches, Matt Scoggin, said three years ago while he was diving for the University of Texas. "He's strong, fast and graceful. The combination of it looks beautiful." (Though, for the record, Jordan has said he "hates" heights and, if he had his choice, would be diving from the 3m springboard rather than some two-and-a-half stories into the water.)

"Most of the people love the adrenaline rush of the sport, but diving is one of the sports you really have to love. You can't do it just to do it, because you will burn out real quickly," Jordan said in 2017.

The story of his adoption and the story of his championship diving career are often told at the same time. And while the family has spoken candidly about it for years — advocating for LGBTQ acceptance at a time of more widespread discrimination, even writing a children's book together — Jerry has said he doesn't want to overshadow his son.

"I am Jordan's dad. One small piece of who I am is I'm a gay man," he said earlier this summer. "That sometimes trumps what the real story is — of what an athlete's accomplishments are."

"If he hadn't had the opportunity I was able to give him," Jerry said in 2018, "the world wouldn't have known who he is."

Jordan, too, says he wouldn't be here without his father.

Jordan Windle Instagram
Jerry Windle (left) with Jordan. Jordan Windle Instagram

"I tell everyone, when they ask me why I dive, I dive purely for my dad and how much he loves watching me," Jordan told Today.

"Without him making all the sacrifices that he has, and his love and support the whole time we've been together, I really wouldn't be where I am today," Jordan said. "I have him to thank for everything, all my accomplishments. It's been an amazing journey with him, and we're still rolling."

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.

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