Seventeen-year-old Jordan Pisey Windle has come a long way since he was orphaned as a baby in Cambodia’s rural Prey Veng province. He’s a now eight-time junior national champion and a five-time U.S. national champion diver in the United States, and is tipped to make it to summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
But first, he has another journey to make—back to the country of his birth.
Aged 12, Windle won the U.S. Junior National Championship Title for diving from the 10-meter platform. He won the men's US National Championship Gold Medal when he was 15. He and his mixed gender synchronized partner, Olympic Silver Medalist, Abby Johnston, won the US National Championship Gold Medal two years in a row.
He is already ranked 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.
Jordan’s adoptive father told VOA Khmer that the young diver’s success was down to a natural-born talent that connects him with Cambodia.
“What we want to share with the people is that his success was really born in his birthplace, in his homeland in Cambodia,” said Jerry Windle, an American citizen. “And we were able to let him develop that, by just giving him certain opportunities.”
Jerry, who adopted Jordan as a single parent in June 2000, and Jerry’s partner, Andrés Rodriguez, are now preparing to take Jordan on his first trip to Cambodia in the coming weeks.
“I wanted to specifically wait until he is a teenager to make his first homecoming trip, so that he would be able to, from emotional and intellectual perspective, embrace everything this trip means,” said Jerry.
Speaking by phone from California—where he was traveling with his dive team—Jordan told VOA Khmer he was looking forward to the trip.
“I feel very honored to go back, because I haven’t been back since I was adopted. It’s going to be a great experience and I am really excited,” he said.
He plans to meet Cambodian orphans like himself, and aims to bring them a message of hope.
“My message would be that I was the same as them—an orphan. Luckily, I got adopted, and I am doing really well in my life,” Jordan said. “But my message would be that, if you are given a chance—like a little chance, nothing major—you can work from that, and achieve something great, and show people that you can do well in life.”
The family will also meet King Norodom Sihamoni and Cambodian government officials during the visit. Jordan said he will put on a diving exhibition to share his talent, hoping that this will inspire Cambodian youth.
Jordan is not able to speak the Khmer language, but his father said he was exposed as a child to Khmer culture and history through art and storytelling. He has also studied the country’s brutal Khmer Rouge era in school.
“He really is an American citizen today,” said Jerry, “but the truth is he is a child of Cambodia, and Cambodia is his home country, and he embraces that.”
Born in Prey Veng province, Jordan was placed in an orphanage in Phnom Penh as an infant after his parents passed away. Jerry, a former U.S. Navy officer who had served off Cambodia’s coast, adopted the boy at about the age of 2.
The adoption took about five months, Jerry said. Before meeting the child, he handed over a photograph of himself that was attached to Jordan’s neck along with a photo of the boy. “When the nanny handed me Jordan for the first time, Jordan had that photograph of us around his neck, and that was very special connection that I had for the first time with him,” said Jerry.
Jordan said the experience of being brought up by two fathers had made him a champion of diversity. “I love my dads more than anything in the world, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them sacrificing so much,” said Jordan.
“If you want to have a family, and if you are little different, I don’t think that changes anything as long as there are people there supporting, caring, and loving you,” he added.
Jordan’s natural talent for diving was discovered when he was 7 years old, while at a summer camp at the Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“Physiologically, his body shape and makeup is very optimal for diving,” noted Jerry.
But it’s not all about serious competition, the proud father added. “He really, really enjoys being around the water, swimming and playing with it. So it became very natural for him to want to be able to flip and twist off the diving board,” said Jerry.
Jordan 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. At the age of 12, he became the youngest diver ever to qualify for the U.S. trials for the Olympics.
Jordan is strictly still in school, however, and takes classes online with the International Connections Academy. He is expected to graduate high school at the end of this year, and will be attending college in early 2017.
Jordan Pisey Windle got straight 10's on this dive at the US National Competition