From A Cambodian Orphanage To World Championships, Jordan Windle's Journey Continues At Diving Nationals

By Paul Batterson | Aug. 09, 2017, 11:20 a.m. (ET)

Jordan Windle competes in the men's 10-meter platform diving at the FINA World Championships on July 21, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary.

 

For a diver who has always been one step ahead of the competition, Jordan Windle owes his start in competitive diving to his dad, Jerry Windle, being one step behind. 

When Jordan was 7, Jerry missed the deadline to sign up his son for many of Fort Lauderdale, Florida’s summer camp programs. Soon after, however, the two were taking a tandem bike ride through Fort Lauderdale when they stumbled upon the International Swimming Hall of Fame, which was offering summer instruction for diving. 

“We stopped and my dad said, ‘Let’s just see what’s going on in here,’” Jordan recalled. “We went in, saw some kids diving and doing flips and my dad said, ‘Well, we might as well try to get you into the summer camp so you’ll have something to do this summer.’” 

That decision turned out to be life changing for Jordan. He proved to be a natural for the sport and, at the end of the camp, a local coach invited him to train with his club.

Eleven years later, the 18-year-old Windle is one of the country’s top divers and one of the favorites heading into this weekend’s USA Diving National Championships in Columbus, Ohio. The event is the last of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, which has highlighted various Olympic sport championships this summer.

Windle says he can’t imagine his life with diving.

“I love the adrenaline and getting a chance to compete with other people and travel the world,” said Windle, who will compete in the men’s 3-meter springboard on Friday and the 10-meter platform on Saturday. “Being able to do that has been out of this world. 

“Most of the people love the adrenaline rush of the sport, but diving is one of the sports you really have to love. You can’t do it just to do it, because you will burn out real quickly. You can’t (stop) thinking about diving.”

In his tune-up for the senior portion of the meet, Windle competed in the boys’ 16-18 age group last week, winning the 3-meter and platform competitions while finishing second in the 1-meter event.

Diving is only a part of Windle’s incredible life journey. Born in the rural province of Prey Veng, Cambodia, Jordan was still a baby when both of his birth parents died. He was living in an orphanage in Phnom Penh until he was 2, when Jerry Windle adopted him. Jordan was brought up in Fort Lauderdale by his two fathers, Jerry and Andre Rodriguez.

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Upon taking up diving, Jordan quickly made a name for himself. At 12, he became the youngest diver to earn an invitation to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where he finished sixth in the synchronized platform diving with Zachary Cooper.

Meanwhile, as his star rose in the diving world, Windle has gotten attention outside of diving. He has been featured in American Red Cross water safety training videos and was part of a Disney Channel program called “Get’cha Head in the Game” with four-time Olympic champion Greg Louganis. He was in a Super Bowl commercial for Visa, recorded a video for the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign and co-authored the children’s book “An Orphan No More” with his dad Jerry.

And, to be sure, he’s continued to improve as a diver. Last summer at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, he placed fourth in the men’s platform diving with 1,240.4 points, behind Olympic qualifiers David Boudia (1,534.4) and Steele Johnson (1,475.15), as well as David Dinsmore (1,463.15), a veteran of the 2015 world championships.

Not bad for someone who wasn’t even out of high school. 

“I was going against all of the amazing athletes from around the country,” Windle said, cocking his head back with a laugh. “In my head, you want to think, ‘I am going to make it for sure.’ But I always want to be realistic. I just dove and had fun and didn’t worry about the outcome. I just put on a show and came out in fourth, which was better than I could ask for. It was awesome.

Windle’s progression through the sport has continued this summer, as he finished 26th in the platform event at the FINA World Championships last month in Budapest, Hungary. With several of his world championships teammates electing to skip this year’s national championships, Windle should be a top contender in both events this weekend in Columbus.

That doesn’t change his focus, which is set on continuing the path to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“I know there’s a lot of people who aren’t here, and there are some new faces showing up but nationals are nationals and you have to look at it as another meet,” said Windle, who will compete for the University of Texas this fall. “It doesn’t change anything. 

“Tokyo is the main goal now. The key is to mainly have fun. Everyone has always given me that advice. Sports are meant to be enjoyed. I always try to keep that in the back of my head. We just roll with that and hopefully it turns out well.”

Paul Batterson is sportswriter from Columbus, Ohio. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.