Texas diver Jordan Windle, who set a new NCAA record in the men's platform diving event at the Big 12 Championships with a net score of 579.60 points, poses for a portrait in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 1, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Swimming & Diving

Fate brought Texas’ Jordan Windle to the U.S., he hopes it takes him to the Olympics

Posted March 3rd, 2018

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Sometimes life can be full of such delicious serendipity.

Jerry Windle was waiting for a client, who was late for a meeting. He picked up a random magazine, flipping through the pages and discovering an article about a single man who adopted a child from Cambodia.

That was in 2000.

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Windle, a single, gay man and retired Naval officer, yearned to start a family. He’d always been told he couldn’t because he was single and gay. Yet five months after reading the magazine, he adopted an 18-month-old boy from an orphanage in Prey Veng, Cambodia. He named him Jordan Pisey Windle. The middle name is Khmer and means “little darling.”

Father and son eventually moved from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. When Jordan was seven, Jerry was desperate to find a summer camp, to keep his son occupied while he worked. By chance, he saw a banner advertising an aquatics program. The day after Jordan enrolled, Jerry was told his son could be the next Greg Louganis, the most iconic star in U.S. diving. The guy who told him was Tim O’Brien, the son of Louganis’ long-time coach.

O’Brien took note of the way Jordan naturally pointed his toes and the way he could flex his arms and shoulders. The Windle’s later learned that Louganis, a coach and gay rights activist, also was adopted. The coincidence was appreciated.

Flash forward to a night late last month, the final day of the Big 12 swimming and diving championships.

Jordan, who now is 19 and a freshman competing for Texas, broke an NCAA record  on his way to winning the platform competition. Four of his of six dives received multiple perfect scores of 10. His most difficult dive — an inward, 4 1/2 somersault — received a 10 from six of the seven judges. Windle totaled 579.6 points, easily breaking the previous record of 560, which was held by 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Nick McCrory.

Here’s another quirk of fate: Windle trained with McCrory when he was a kid and both were living in North Carolina.

Much bigger things are expected for Windle. Starting Monday, he and the rest of the Longhorn divers will try to qualify for the NCAAs at the zone meet in Minneapolis. If the Longhorns — the three-time defending NCAA champions —  win the team title again, Windle needs to score significant points.

Windle, who qualified for his first Olympic trials at age 12, has competed twice at the world championships. He excels on the platform. That’s where diving’s daredevils perform amazing twists, tucks, flips and spins. The board stands three stories high and a diver hits the water at speeds of 35 mph. The biggest, best-scoring dives produce the smallest of ripples.

Texas coach Matt Scoggin said Windle’s dives can be breathtaking.

“He has beautiful lines,” Scoggin said. “He’s strong, fast and graceful. The combination of it looks beautiful.”

Coincidentally, Scoggin and his wife share an adoption story with Windle. The Scoggins adopted their daughter, Grace, from China two decades ago.

Windle said he prefers the 3-meter springboard to platform because it’s “less scary.” He didn’t leap from the high board until he was 10 and only after heavy nudging from his dad. He asked a coach “can I hold your hand because I was terrified.”

The Windles turned into diving nomads, moving from Florida to Indiana to North Carolina for Jordan’s training. They’re separated now. Jerry, who is a town councilman, stayed back in Morrisville, N.C. when Jordan moved to Austin last summer.

Jordan’s background has been celebrated nationally. He’s been part of the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign. In the video, he tells other teen-agers: “everyone deserves to be happy. I know there are a lot of kids out there who would love to have a family as great as mine.”

He and Louganis filmed an episode for the Disney Channel’s “Get’cha Head in the Game.” And Jordan and Jerry co-wrote a book called “An Orphan No More … the True Story of a Boy, Chapter One.”

The Windles returned to Cambodia when Jordan was 16. He performed diving exhibitions for school children and took in the sites of his original home country, which is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

But Jordan says he doesn’t have much desire to dig more into his heritage. He was told his parents died when he was one. That’s about all he knows.

“At times I get curious, it just happens randomly,” Jordan said. “I want to focus on my life now. My dad has asked me if I wanted to see whether my birth parents were alive or not, to find out. My answer every time is no. Part of that comes from me not wanting to hurt him. He wants the best for me, but I’m happy with how I am now.”

Jordan’s greatest goal is to represent the United States at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. But he recently had the Cambodian flag tattooed on his tricep.

Jerry still is wowed by how his life — and Jordan’s — took such a marvelous turn because of the randomness of reading an article in a magazine devoted to adoption.

“If he hadn’t had the opportunity I was able to give him,” Jerry says, “the world wouldn’t have known who he is.”

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