For the first time in more than sixteen years, a Cambodian-born U.S. diving champion, Jordan Pisey Windle, has returned to the country of his birth to inspire young Cambodians to chase their dreams.
Windle was orphaned at 18 months old following his parents’ death in Cambodias eastern Prey Veng province, before being adopted by a former U.S. Navy officer, Jerry Windle, in June 2000. Now, the 17 year-old lives with his two fathers, Jerry and Andres Rodriguez, in California and had never been back to Cambodia before he touched down in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.
The five-time U.S. national champion diver and his adoptive-parents visited orphanages and demonstrated his diving skills for the Cambodian national diving team at one of the capital’s most iconic buildings – Olympic Stadium.
“I’m here as a role model, because I was adopted here, I was given the opportunity to have a great life with my two dads and with that little opportunity, I was able to overcome some difficulties and reached some of my goals that I have set for myself,” he said. “That’s what I want to show all of these people here and the orphans.”
Windle spent five days in Phnom Penh and two days in Siem Reap province, where he was scheduled to visit the Angkor Wat temple. In Phnom Penh, he also visited the S-21 genocide museum and the Choeung Ek killing fields.
The tragedy of the Cambodian genocide shocked Windle, but he said Cambodia’s past would help the country to move towards greater prosperity. Likewise, he hoped that his diving abilities will inspire more Cambodians to look to the future.
“I am using my diving to show that I have moved up… showing that I did get the opportunity and I used that opportunity to be the best that I can be in diving, and it shows that, with hard work, just a little bit of hard work, then you can do whatever you want,” he said. “You can be who you want to be, as long as you put some effort into it.”
Windle’s father, Jerry, who sat next to him, added that the he hoped the Cambodian government would give more “opportunity” to all young people, who had similar roots like Jordan so that they would have the opportunity to grow.
“If the government can help support, not only through sport but also through growth and giving opportunities to the young people of Cambodia, it will continue to raise Cambodia on the world and international stage,” Jerry said. “He is not different than anybody else that we’ve met in our journey so far. The only difference between him and the people in Cambodia is that he was given more opportunity.”
Following his adoption, Windle moved to Florida with Jerry and later to California. At seven years old, Windle was brought to the attention of his trainer during the summer camp at the Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
He has been trained by renowned divers including Tim O’Brien, Evan Linette, Sean McCarthy and Greg Louganis. His current coach is Nunzio Esposto, head diving coach at Duke University.
Aged 12, Windle won the U.S. junior national championship title for diving from the 10-meter platform. He won the men's U.S. national championship gold medal when he was 15. He and his mixed gender synchronized partner, Olympic silver medalist, Abby Johnston, won the U.S. national championship gold medal two years in a row.
Windle ranks in the top five American divers, and is hopeful of making it into Team USA for the games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with trials coming up in Indianapolis next month.
During the exhibition and training on Thursday at Olympic Stadium, the young champion shared his experiences with the Cambodian diving team.
Pum David, 13, watched intently as Windle dived. He later joined along with his younger brother and another teammate, and told VOA Khmer that he was inspired and learned a lot from Windle, adding that he was also an orphan.
“I have learnt a lot about the hands and making the legs straight. I think I have improved,” David said. “I want to be like him, but I have to train more…next year, I will join SEA Games competition.”
Windle said he is considering helping Cambodia’s national team after the next Olympic Games.
“So, I have to finish off this year and if I want to, it would be an honor to represent [Cambodia], then I would, I would be able to do it next year,” he said. “But we will see what will happen with my career. We will go from there.”
Hem Kiry, secretary general of the Khmer Amateur Swimming Federation and a former Olympian who swam at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic, said the presence of Jordan in the stadium gave hope and inspiration to Cambodia’s youth.
Kiry also welcomed Windle expressing an interest in joining the Cambodian national team.
“Our federation is pleased if Jordan can join us to improve our diving and represent Cambodia in international games,” he said. “The federation will keep in touch and work with him about it.”