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U.S. diver adopted from Cambodia and raised by a gay dad hopes to inspire others

Watching Jordan Windle execute a perfect dive from the 10-meter platform — analogous to jumping headfirst from a three-story building — you’d never know he was scared of anything. 

“I’m afraid of heights,” he told NBC Asian America, “but I love putting on a show. Being able to fall from 10 meters and create such a little splash — the reaction is incredible.”

After placing second at the Olympic trials in June, the University of Texas at Austin senior will compete in the men’s 10-meter platform preliminary at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. The 22-year-old diver, who was adopted at 18 months old from Cambodia by a single gay American man, has spent the last 15 years preparing for this moment.

Jordan Windle celebrates after finishing second in the men’s 10-meter platform final during the U.S. Olympic Trials at the Indiana University Natatorium on June 12, 2021, in Indianapolis.Dylan Buell / Getty Images

“On the 10-hour flight here, I could not sleep,” Windle said. “I was just sitting there super anxious and was actually shaking a little bit thinking about having to compete in front of millions of people watching. But the first day I got in the pool, all those nerves kind of disappeared, because in my mind and in my heart it felt like I was meant to be here.” 

Windle, who was the youngest person to ever qualify for the Olympic diving trials at age 12, has made waves in the sport since he started diving at age 7 at an aquatics summer camp in South Florida.

Tim O’Brien, the son of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame diving coach Ron O’Brien, immediately spotted how Windle naturally pointed his toes and positioned his shoulders behind his neck. He believed Windle could be a national champion one day.

Windle went on to be a six-time junior national individual champion, a seven-time senior national champion and a two-time NCAA champion, setting a men’s platform diving record at the Big 12 Championships in 2018. 

Since the start of his diving career, he’s been compared to the Olympic legend and activist Greg Louganis, who is also adopted and has served as a mentor to Windle for many years. When Windle and his father co-authored the children’s book, “An Orphan No More: The True Story of a Boy,” Louganis wrote the foreword. 

As a transracial adoptee, Windle said, he was bullied as a child for having a gay father “and just being different in general.” A longtime ally to the LGBTQ community, Windle uses his platform to educate and encourage others to support marginalized people and was part of the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign when he was younger.

While millions of Americans will root for Windle as he competes this week, he’s also something of a hero in his homeland, and the first diver of Cambodian descent to compete in the Games. 

When Windle first returned to Cambodia in 2016 as a national champion, his arrival caused a media storm. His diving exhibition in Phnom Penh was attended by hundreds of local schoolchildren and orphans, he said, to whom he spoke via a translator. 

Since making the U.S. Olympic diving team, Windle said, he has seen an influx of Cambodian fans following him on social media. 

“It really is heartwarming to know that people are willing to reach out to me and share some of their stories, as well as some of the similarities we have, because that creates a stronger bond with where I came from and makes me want to help them even more,” said Windle, who had the Cambodian flag tattooed on his left bicep on Thanksgiving Day when he was 18.

The Olympian plans to return to Cambodia in the future and hopes to start a nonprofit diving program in the Southeast Asian country one day. “Once I visited, it showed me that there are people out there looking for opportunity,” he said. “I can share my story and give them that opportunity to take a chance and live a great life in the future.”

But for now, his focus is on enjoying the remaining days of his Olympics journey and performing the exceptional dives he’s worked toward since childhood. 

“When you’re diving, everything slows down within an instant,” Windle said. “You’re technically in the air for less than two seconds, but when you’re spinning and doing your dive and you’re in the moment, it slows down and you’re able to see colors and see people — it really is an extraordinary sport.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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