As many remember, the Olympics were delayed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, athletes and fans are aflame about the Summer Games, currently taking place in Tokyo from July 23 to August 8, 2021. The training and incredible talent that is required of athletes competing is always impressive.
During the months leading up to the Olympics, the media flooded its content with stories of these athletes, their journeys to the big games, and their families who have supported them along the way. In honor of the Summer 2021 Olympics, Adoptions With Love is reflecting on the athletes who have been touched by adoption.
There are many adopted Olympic athletes who have been impacted by adoption in some way, whether they were adopted, are part of an adoptive family, or made an adoption plan. Read on, as we share seven Olympics adoption stories that have inspired us over the years.
1. Simone Biles
Before she was considered the G.O.A.T in gymnastics, Simone Biles was one of eight siblings that needed a loving, permanent home. Her birth mother was unable to care for the children. After some time in the foster care system, Simone’s paternal grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, raised her. Though they were unable to adopt all of the children they cared for, the couple adopted Simone when she was five-years-old, along with her younger sister, Adria, at age three. Her other siblings were adopted by other family members. You can read about Simone’s inspiring adoption story here.
When asked about her adoption, Simone Biles explained to TIME magazine, “I have everything I need, so there are no blanks left unfilled. I never felt I had questions or needed answers or had a part of me that was missing.”
Today, Simone Biles has a combined total of 30 Olympic and World Championship medals. The 24-year-old is the most decorated American gymnast and is widely considered to be one of the greatest female gymnasts of all time.
2. Paige McPherson
Paige McPherson is another talented athlete who was adopted at a young age. She was adopted at just four days old – along with four other siblings – by Susan and Dave McPherson and raised in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Today, the 30-year-old taekwondo star is representing Team USA in Tokyo. She won a gold medal in the 2016 Pan American Games and won a bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. In addition to her athletic accolades, Paige is passionate about adoption. She is a part of A Safe Haven for Newborns, a nonprofit that works to help newborns from the dangers of abandonment and prevent the crisis that mothers-to-be can experience.
3. Brittney Reese
Brittney Reese is an adoptive parent that inspires many mothers and athletes alike. Considered one of the most dominant long jumpers of all time, the 34-year-old earned a gold medal in 2012, along with four outdoor world titles and three indoor world titles.
This year’s Summer Games will mark Brittney’s fourth trip to the Olympics, and the second time going as a mom. She adopted her godson, Alex, after her longtime friend was no longer able to raise him.
4. Jessica Long
Millions of Americans got to know Jessica Long on February 7th, when she was featured in a commercial that ran during Super Bowl LV. The 12-time gold medalist is the second-most decorated U.S. Paralympian in history, and her story is even more incredible.
Jessica was born in Russia with a rare condition known as Fibular Hemimelia. She was born without fibulas, ankles, heels, and most of the bones in her feet. Despite being an infant that required many surgeries, Jessica was adopted by an American couple who brought her home to Baltimore, Maryland. Jessica went on to swim competitively and made her Paralympic debut at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens.
Jessica went back to Russia in 2013 to visit her orphanage and meet her birth parents, who were teenagers when the now-29-year-old was born.
5. Kendra Harrison
Before heading to Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Games, Kendra “Keni” Harrison knew she had the support of her loving family. The running champion is one of 11 children. Her parents, Karon and Gary, never planned on having children, but ended up with a large crew. Keni is one of the nine children that the couple adopted. Her birth mother placed her for adoption, and Karon and Gary learned about her soon after adopting their daughter, Tasha. The two are just 11 days apart in age. While it is a big family, Keni says she cannot imagine it any other day.
“Just to have them support me and they’ve seen my journey, I know they are just so proud of me and just thinking of them it brought so much emotion over me,” Keni told the Today show. “I just want to make them proud.
In 2016, Keni became the world record holder in the women’s 100-meter hurdles after breaking the previous record set 28 years prior. The incredible athlete says her Olympic work ethic comes from watching her adoptive parents.
“The live by example,” she said. “They’re hard working people and they taught me not to give up and to accomplish (your) goals you have to work hard. And so that’s just something I took from them.”
6. Jordan Windle
U.S. Olympic Diver Jordan Windle makes his father proud, but it is his father who knew he won the most important prize of all. When Jordan was a two-year-old boy in Cambodia, malnourished and sick, his adoptive father, Jerry, held him in his arms and knew that he would love him forever.
“I didn’t know if he would live or die,” Jerry told the Today show. “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.”
Jerry proved that he could be a loving father, even at a time when gay parents faced widespread adversity, especially when it came to parenting.
“There was such homophobia and bigotry around the concept of a gay person being a parent,” he said. “Even folks who loved me said, ‘you can’t be a dad if you’re going to be gay.’”
Jordan always felt the love and support of his doting father. He started diving at seven years old and won his first junior national championship just two years later.
When Jordan was 16, he got the opportunity to compete in a diving exhibition in his home country of Cambodia. He describes the trip as “awesome”, saying that 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 recalled. “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.”
During the interview with Today, he explained that he tell everyone that he dives for his dad.
“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.”
7. Honorable Mention – Laura Wilkinson
There is one more adoption story to share, though this athlete will not be competing at the Summer Games in Tokyo this summer. Laura Wilkinson, a 43-year-old diver from Texas, is a 19-time USA Diving national champion and 2000 Olympic gold medalist. More importantly, she is a mom who is full of love. She and her husband, Eriek Hulseman, have four children. Their second and fourth children came into their lives through adoption. Her expanding family temporarily put her Olympic dreams on hold.
“I retired in 2008 because I wanted to be a mom,” said Wilkinson. “It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to dive anymore. I was just 30 years old and we’d put it off for a while and I was really ready to be a mom. And you know, being pregnant makes it kind of hard to get into those nice, tight tuck and pipe position. So, I hung the suit up.”
Laura stunned spectators back in 2000, when she overcame a crushed foot to win the platform gold medal. She returned to the Olympics two more times, and, this past June, looked to make history by making one more dive.
While she did not qualify for Team USA, she did receive a standing ovation from everyone in the stands. Her story has inspired many moms and moms-to-be, working to grow a family while fulfilling their dreams of motherhood.
Every adoption story is beautiful, and these amazing athletes are living proof. They show the world that family is not created from DNA but fostered through the power of love.