Imagine that, out of nowhere, you learn that your son or daughter has the potential to be a competitive athlete. And then, imagine that your child loves it. He or she eagerly seeks out new challenges, time and again, constantly working to improve.
What would you do? How would you react?
Those are the questions that Jerry Windle and husband Andres Rodriguez have found themselves having to answer with their son, Jordan Windle. He’s 15 and a competitive diver, and considered a leading contender for the next Olympic games.
“It’s utterly unbelievable,” Jerry says today. He says that he and Andres sometimes sit up at night and can’t believe the course their lives have taken. “He inspires us every day.”
When Jordan was 7 years old and attending summer camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Jerry says, he did some diving just for fun. A coach saw him and was impressed, saying he was anatomically perfect for diving.
Training is generally a lengthy process, but by the time Jordan was 9, he was in the finals of the junior national diving championships. The Disney channel did a spot about him, and he was taken under the wing of Olympic legend Greg Louganis.
“He’s been called ‘Little Louganis,’ ” Jerry says.
Both are left-handed, and both are adopted. In fact, Jerry adopted Jordan from a Cambodian orphanage when the boy was 2 years old. He weighed just 16 pounds.
The family ended up moving to Indianapolis, Ind., the headquarters of USA Diving, the American national diving program. Jordan qualified for the Olympic trials in 2012 when he was 12 and finished in 6th place. The national diving program then decentralized, and the family moved to Morrisville, N.C., where Jordan now trains at Duke University.
He’s kept piling up the awards, too. He won the U.S. men’s national championships; this winter he won the U.S. synchronized diving national championships. In June or July, he will be traveling to Russia as an ambassador for diving.
Through all of this, Jerry says, “We’re not there pushing him to compete.” The couple doesn’t want their son ever to think that he was forced to do anything he didn’t want to do.
“We think about what’s it going to be like when we’re having a conversation with him when he’s 25 or 30,” Jerry says.
There’s a bittersweet quality to Jordan’s success, too. Both of his parents come from working-class families and didn’t have the opportunity to pursue such competition. “I was a gymnast growing up,” Jerry says, but he wasn’t able to pursue it seriously.
It he had, he wonders now, “What course would my life have taken?”
As it stands now, though, Jordan is an avid competitor, putting in seven to eight hours a day in training. He’s enrolled in an online school program and spends some six hours of schoolwork a day. He loves the mental and physical challenge.
“It’s just something that he’s devoted to,” Jerry says, adding later that “he loves the fire of competing.”
There’s so much more to learn about Jordan and his dads. But for now, let’s leave them suspended in the air, like a diver just about to break the surface of the water. There will be time for splashing later.
Dancing Her Way To Fame
There are many ways to compete, of course, and not all of them involve sports.
Jay Garcia and Adam Vasquez live in Bakersfield, Calif., and their 11-year-old daughter Natalie is a competitive dancer, in both jazz and ballet styles. They travel around California with her, going to various showcases and events.
She started dancing when she was 7. For Jay, watching his daughter was a revelation.
“She’s a really shy girl,” he says. That is, she’s a really shy girl most of the time.
“She’s a completely different Natalie when she performs.”
Natalie is Jay’s biological daughter, born from a high school romance. He ended up raising her, along with his family’s help. Adam has been with them since she was 3.
Jay says he has always supported what his daughter wants to do. With dance, she found a calling. She practices from 4 to 8 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays and some on Sundays. The most hours she’ll put in during one day are five.
“I love the fact that she’s so passionate about this,” Jay says.
But he doesn’t want dance to become the sole interest in her life. “For now, this is a very serious thing,” he says. “She takes it a little too seriously sometimes.”
Jay has something in common with Jerry Windle, too. He also had childhood interests that he wasn’t able to follow. He always loved dancing and the dance world, but he was never able to pursue it. Having a child interested in the field just worked out.
The highlight of her dancing career so far came when she competed in Miami, Fla., in July of last year, appearing on the Univision variety show Sábado Gigante. She competed with three other dancers and came in second based on audience applause.
“It was a crazy, amazing experience for her,” Jay says, his voice full of pride.
Natalie keeps on working and competing. She’s part of a dance team going to a national competition in Las Vegas. And she manages to find the time to play viola in school, as well.
“She’s a busy girl, but I think busy is good for young kids sometimes,” Jay says. ““It’s definitely like a part-time job.”
What about being a gay dad in the competitive dance world? Jay said that he and Adam are pretty private and keep to themselves. They weren’t necessarily the most obvious gay parents at dance events, and others eventually wondered where Natalie’s mom was.
But once Jay and Adam’s relationship was known, there were no problems with the other parents or dancers.
“I think it turned out good. Never did they make her feel uncomfortable,” Jay says.
As for Natalie, the confidence she’s gained, and the status of being a successful competitive dancer, have been incredible benefits. Jay still sounds a little amazed at how much his daughter has grown and thrived.
“Dance has opened doors,” he says.
Twins Take To The Field
For Brendan Barrett and husband, Vance Skinner, the competition is both outside and inside the home. The Waukesha, Wis., residents are raising twin daughters, 11-year-old Ashlyn and Bailie.
Each one of the girls plays soccer and basketball, and Bailie dances. Ashlyn plays in a competitive soccer team, while her sister is on a club team. Ashlyn’s team, Brendan says, is ranked No. 1 in the state.
“They basically do quite a bit,” he says. “They’re very competitive.”
The drive started early. The girls joined a parks and recreation soccer team when they were three, and took to it immediately. And while Bailie does well and enjoys the sport, it’s her sister who pushes the limits.
“Ashlyn has a drive in her that she wants to express,” Brendan says. “You could see that when she was 3 years old.”
The family has been to Indiana and Illinois for games, and will be traveling to Schwan's USA Cup International Youth Soccer Tournament in Minneapolis, Minn., in July. Ashlyn is looking forward to cross-country and track next year, eager to try out something that only she does. She ultimately wants play basketball and soccer in college.
“She has that in her sights,” Brendan says.
Practice is twice a week for both sisters. Between perfecting their moves on the field and going to games, “it’s our family time,” he says. “We get together, it’s kind of what we do.”
Brendan played some sports while growing up, he says, but nothing on this level. And his husband, Vance, didn’t participate at all.
And while “we talk about burnout, and how much is too much,” he says, Ashlyn “would rather do sporting stuff with her friends than stay at home and do nothing.”
The girls aren’t necessarily competitive against each other on the playing field. They just love sports and the physical and mental effort involved. At this point, sports have simply become an important part of their identities.
“They’re pretty much the same kid,” he says. “Whatever the options are, they’re going to do it.”
As for being the gay dads of competitive kids, Brendan says, it’s turned out to be a nonissue. He and Vance have always lived their lives in an open way, not hiding who their family was. And the other families have embraced them.
With practices and games aplenty, they has spend serious time with the other parents. It’s been all positive.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” he says. “We’re friends with all of them. … We’ve formed some really good friendships.”
Brendan places special emphasis on sportsmanship. Learning how to be good sports following a loss is an important part of competition, after all. Crying if you’re hurt during a game is okay, but it’s an overreaction to falling short on the playing field.
Luckily, Brendan says, the twins have shown themselves to be good losers, as well as winners.
“They take it totally fine,” he says. “Our kids have never acted like that.”
Ultimately, Brendan and Vance simply want their daughters to succeed on their own terms. They give them as much support as they can, and Ashlyn and Bailie take it the rest of the way.
“You want them to do well if they want to do well,” he says.
Breaking the surface
Let’s return to Jerry Windle and Andres Rodriguez, and their diver son, Jordan. We left their story suspended in midair, just about the hit the water. But now that we’ve spent some time with the parents of other competitive kids, let’s make a splash.
Jerry is an executive consultant in the health-care industry, which has allowed the family flexibility as they’ve moved. But that’s not his only job. He and Andres have also started an online business called The Diver’s Club, which sells gifts for divers.
“We have become the diving family,” Jerry says.
Ultimately, though, “Our primary role right now is the role of parents. … I truly don’t care if he wins or he loses.”
And that kind of grounding is important, because Jordan is becoming a celebrity in the world of competitive diving. Parents come up to Jerry and Andres and tell them how nice their son was to their children, and that they saw his appearance on the Disney Channel.
“My biggest concern is that there’s probably an element of naïveté,” Jerry says. For all the popular acknowledgment Jordan receives (especially from girls these days), “He’s our kid.” He plays video games and takes out the trash, like anyone else’s son.
Jordan has become a celebrity in another way, though. This part of the story really started some four years ago, in 2011, with the suicides of some gay teenagers. Jordan told his dads that he wanted to film an “It Gets Better” video.
He made the video and encouraged those watching to hang in there, because there were lots of kids just like him, who would love to be raised by caring gay parents.
“He really has made a difference in perceptions of gay parents raising children,” Jerry says.
As for the Jerry and Andres, they’ve found acceptance and friendship in the diving community. Although, Jerry points out, Andres is Colombian and looks quite young, so sometimes people wonder if he and Jordan are brothers.
But the couple feel like Jordan’s overall attitude and positive spirit make the case for them. Other families have said as much.
“We don’t hide in the shadows,” Jerry says. “We’re not road warriors, but we don’t hide who we are, either.”
As people come to know them, he says, they realize that “you guys are more vanilla and normal than we are.”
More broadly, though, Jerry understands that things are changing in Jordan’s life. He’s aiming for the Olympics. He’s entering the middle of his teenage years. The little boy that Jerry and Andres knew is becoming a man.
“His time as a youngster is coming to an end,” Jerry says. “He’s growing up very, very quickly.”