|My dad holding me at the orphanage. The picture of him around my neck was brought by another family 3 months before my dad came. It was so I would know him when we met! (All Photos: http://www.jordanwindle.com)|
|My family picture! Dad, me, and Papi.|
|Diving synchro 3 meter springboard at the 2011 USA Diving Winter National Championships.|
Written by Neal Taflinger
Jordan Pisey Windle is used to being the center of attention.
He has been the focus of his father's life since the day in 2000 when Jerry Windle retrieved him from a Cambodian orphanage.
He has been turning heads for the past five years as a diving phenom, the youngest ever to qualify for the U.S. Olympic diving trials.
And all eyes will be on him June 9 when he serves as grand marshal for the Circle City IN Pride Parade, an annual celebration of Central Indiana's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
The young athlete's decision to accept the parade invitation -- and the fact that he has two fathers -- is sure to raise eyebrows. But what other people think isn't of concern to the 13-year-old. He views the world so unself-consciously that when asked if he ever gets tired of people questioning him about his origins and his family, he simply shrugged. "I've never actually thought about it."
Jerry Windle was raised in a Pentecostal family and enrolled in the Navy straight out of high school in 1983. He completed officer candidate training and was awarded a full scholarship to Oregon State University, where he studied education. He served with distinction -- without revealing his sexual identity -- for 11 years, achieving the rank of lieutenant. He later worked for a pharmaceutical company and owned a medical consulting firm, but for all of his professional success, one aspiration was left unfilled: "I'd wanted to be a dad for as long as I could remember," Windle said.
Then one day in 2001, Windle was flipping through a magazine and came across an article about a man who adopted a boy from Cambodia. The story never mentioned an adoptive mother, so Windle called the magazine to confirm his suspicion that the man adopted as a single parent. "I said, 'So a single man can adopt in Cambodia?' and the magazine said, 'Yeah,' " Windle recalled. "So I filled out an application, and five months later I was on my way to Cambodia to get Jordan."
Cambodia held a special significance for the Navy man. "Being a military officer, we did a lot of study in college of the Vietnam War," Windle said. "The atrocities that were committed in Cambodia during the Vietnam War struck a chord with me."
Named Pisey (pronounced pee-SIGH in his native Khmer) at birth, the child was an orphan before he was 1. He spent the next year in an orphanage in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. Windle sent a picture of himself to the orphanage in advance of his trip in the hopes that the child would recognize him when he arrived. At the orphanage, he "grabbed a hold of my face," Windle said, "and he's been holding it ever since."
The toddler's first trip with his new father was to a hospital to resolve a raft of medical problems. One of more than 100 orphans in the open-air facility, Jordan was infested with intestinal parasites and scabies, had an array of cuts and welts on his legs from the bamboo basket he slept in and was suffering from a severe urinary tract infection.
When Windle brought his son home to Naples, Fla., he faced another hurdle: Jordan spoke and understood only Khmer. Rather than force a new language on his son, Windle taught him sign language to communicate his basic needs. Within six months, Jordan was speaking and comprehending English.
The pair moved to California and back to Florida early in Jordan's elementary school years. After second grade, Windle enrolled Jordan in a summer camp at the Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale. It was there he caught the eye of diving coach Tim O'Brien.
O'Brien's father, Ron, had coached four-time Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis, and he saw parallels between the two. Louganis saw not only Jordan's physical ability but also the emotional and intellectual makeup of a future champion. "For an 8-year-old, he asked very insightful questions," Louganis said.
Shortly thereafter, Jordan transferred from a public school in Fort Lauderdale to a private academy, Pine Crest, that boasts one of the top swimming and diving programs in the country. He worked with noted diving coach Janet Gabriel at Pine Crest, but she and Louganis encouraged the Windles to relocate to Indianapolis and set up camp at USA Diving's National Training Center. By this time, the family of two had expanded to include Andrés Rodriguez, a soft-spoken sports lover whom Jordan was taken with immediately.
"When I got involved with this family, Jordan made it so easy," Rodriguez said. "From day one, we hit it off. He made it such a smooth transition that I felt like a member of the family from day one."
In fact, it was Jordan who broached the topic of whether Rodriguez was a visitor or a permanent addition. The three went out to dinner one night, several months after Windle started dating Rodriguez, and at some point during the meal Jordan turned to him and said, "Are you going to join our family? Can I call you Papi?" Now, Rodriguez is the parent Jordan turns to for tips on talking to girls and other adolescent concerns.
In November 2010, the three left Florida and relocated to Indianapolis, home of the Natatorium and USA Diving's dry-land training facility. The family quickly settled into a routine that is at once mundane and extraordinary.
Windle went to work as a manager in Indiana University Health's revenue cycle department. AT&T transferred Rodriguez's job to Indianapolis. The family shares a Meridian-Kessler home. Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers memorabilia -- as well as a framed medal, shirt and Speedo from one of Jordan's meets -- adorn the walls of their finished basement. A Lonely Planet guide to Cambodia sits on the coffee table. A Jack Russell terrier mix named Ginger accompanies Rodriguez and Jordan around the house and backyard, where two trees were recently taken out to create more usable space. A chicken coop is tucked behind the garage.
Jordan trains eight to nine hours a day, six days a week at the dry-land facility and the Natatorium. When he is not working on his diving, he studies ballet and uses Pilates and weight training to improve his fitness. His training regimen doesn't accommodate formal school settings, so he attends Indiana Connections Academy, a virtual school serving about 2,500 kids statewide.
"He'll do his class work from 5 in the evening to 8:30 or 9 at night," Windle said. "We'll do school work on Saturdays and Sundays, as well."
When his peers are heading off to summer camps and packing into vans for vacations, Jordan will be traveling to Seattle for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, June 17 to 24, where he will compete for a ticket to London in 10-meter synchronized diving with his teammate, Toby Stanley.
It's an intense undertaking, but Jordan doesn't seem put out or put upon. "I love diving, I love to do it, it's just fun to me," he said with another shrug. The diver wants to perform well in Seattle, but he is not preoccupied with making the Olympic team this year. That may be due, in part, to the fact that those around him see an Olympiad in his future.
"This is a good setup for 2016," Louganis said. "This is a time to learn. It's a learning process and a journey."
If Jordan's journey continues as expected, don't be surprised to turn on the television during the Rio de Janeiro games and see a tear-jerking vignette about the diver's adoption, his two dads and his day at the front of the Pride parade. Just don't expect Jordan to understand what all the fuss is about.
Twitter.com/NealTaflinger or call him at (317) 444-6579.