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His dad's love brought Jordan Windle from a Cambodian orphanage to the Olympics

No one expected a gay, single man to become a father. But Jerry Windle's dreams came true when he adopted Jordan.
/ Source: TODAY

People told Jerry Windle he would never be a dad.

Now he's watching his son, Jordan, compete in the Olympics.

"There was such homophobia and bigotry around the concept of a gay person being a parent," Jerry Windle told TODAY's Hoda Kotb. "Even folks who loved me said, you can’t be a dad if you’re going to be gay."

He proved them wrong.

One day, he recalls, "I started thumbing through a magazine and there was a story in there of a man who adopted a child from Cambodia, and it didn't mention a mother."

"The story went on to talk about the close relationship between the father and his son, and something kind of clicked in my head ... The article listed (the number of an adoption service) and so I called the number and I said 'I just read an article, is it possible for a single person to adopt a child?' and they said 'Yes, it is.'"

Months later, he held a very sick little boy in his arms at a Cambodian orphanage. Malnourished and fighting infection, Jordan was struggling to stay alive. It was love at first sight.

"He was 2 years old but he was 16 pounds. I didn’t know if he would live or die," Jerry said. "I promised him that I would do everything that I could, that he wouldn’t ever have to suffer again. I would make every sacrifice I could as a parent to get him every opportunity."

Jordan Windle is representing the United States on the U.S. Olympic Diving Team after placing second at the Olympic trials. While his father won't be there to see him compete due to COVID restrictions on spectators, Jordan said he's "super excited."

"I can usually hear (my dad) out of everyone in the audience, which is awesome. Not having him at the Olympics will be different," said Jordan. "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."

Jordan's journey to the Olympics began at an early age. When he was just 7 years old, a man named Tim O'Brien told Jerry that his son reminded him of the legendary diver Greg Louganis. O'Brien's father, Dr. Ron O'Brien, had been Louganis's Olympic coach, and coached Team USA over the course of eight Olympic Games.

"He said that he just saw something in Jordan, and it was kind of physiological but also inexplicable, and so Jordan said he wanted to go into diving lessons and I said 'OK, if it's something you want to do, let's do it,'" Jerry said. "And so at 7 years old he started diving, and he won his first junior national championship two years later, which is almost unprecedented for somebody that just got into a sport."

"I know the hard work that he's put into it, it's been earned, and I'm just really excited and proud that with his coaching staff, he's been able to accomplish such an amazing feat," said Jerry.

At 16, Jordan returned to Cambodia to compete in a diving exhibition that was meant to inspire young children in the country. Jerry said that the pair received a massive greeting when they landed at the airport.

"There was a sea of media ... We didn't expect it, we didn't know how much the people of Cambodia knew Jordan, and they knew him because of the internet ... He's kind of a national hero in Cambodia," Jerry said. "We got off the airplane and I started looking all over the place, thinking Angelina Jolie had just arrived or something. We really thought either the king of Cambodia or Angelina Jolie was here, someone big.'"

"And then they started yelling out his Cambodian name, 'Pisey,' and we were like 'Holy smokes, Jordan, this is for you,'" Jerry recalled.

Jordan said that the trip was "awesome" and he felt right at home while visiting.

"I went there (to) put on an exhibition for orphans and school kids that haven't really had the opportunity to grow, and it was extraordinary," Jordan said. "Being able to speak to them, through a translator, and share where I came from in my life and how I was able to actually become who I am today because of my dad was awesome."

Jordan Windle competes in the men's 10-meter platform final during 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials.Dylan Buell / Getty Images

"He said something to the crowd that was non-scripted but it just really hit me in my heart," Jerry said, noting that he was paraphrasing Jordan's speech. "He said 'You know I am just like you, I'm a child of Cambodia,' and he went on to say that the only difference between him and them was that he was given an opportunity. And then he looked at the government officials of Cambodia and he said 'I hope you give all these children the opportunity that my dad gave me.'"

Now, six years later, Jordan will compete for the United States at the Olympics — and in his heart, he'll also be representing Cambodia. He recently got the Cambodian flag tattooed on his arm so people can see it when he dives.

"It's a really big honor for me," Jordan said. "There's a lot of people, a lot more eyes on me, but if anything it just makes me excited to be able to perform at my best and show that all this hard work can hopefully pay off. ... This has been a dream come true and it's an amazing opportunity to be part of."

While Jerry hasn't been able to travel to Tokyo and won't be in the stands for Jordan's Olympic dives, he knows his son will feel his support from home.

"I know that Jordan knows that I'm with him," Jerry said. "That I physically can't be there is incredibly disappointing, because I just love the show that he puts on ... Though I can't be there with him, we're going to have a huge watch party out here in California, and I know that there's another one going on in Florida with family and friends out there. It's disappointing but at the same time this is Jordan's journey and this is the pinnacle of it, and I want him to enjoy this experience as best he can ... That's what I've always wanted for him."

Jordan said that while he's competing in Tokyo, he'll be thinking of his father.

"I tell everyone, when they ask me why I dive, I dive purely for my dad and how much he loves watching me," Jordan said. "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. I have him to thank for everything, all my accomplishments. It's been an amazing journey with him, and we're still rolling."

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CORRECTION (July 23, 2021, 11:39 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this story misidentified Jordan Windle's father in a headline; his name is Jerry Windle.