Adoption Representation in the Olympics

As a young child, I remember watching the Olympics, starting with the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, but more especially the 1992 Barcelona games and 1996 Atlanta games. My family would cheer on Team USA in all the events we could watch, especially gymnastics. My sisters and I would go outside and try to imitate the gymnast’s tricks on our trampoline, homemade balance beam, and the grass pretending it was the floor. 

Now I share my love of the Olympics with my three sons, who were all adopted. One of my sons just turned 7 years old and has been involved in gymnastics since the Covid restrictions were lifted. He is extremely flexible and loves flipping, jumping, and swinging around a bar. Another mother was watching him and asked me where he got his flexibility from, and I replied that he got it from his birth family. This opened up a conversation about foster care and adoption. My son watched the Gymnastic Olympics trials with me and sat mesmerized by the skills that the gymnasts could complete. He immediately wanted to get his own USA gymnastic uniform to wear to his practices. Since it arrived, he has worn it multiple days and thinks that he can do his splits and tricks even better now. After watching Simone Biles do her amazing skills, he asked to watch them again. He was even more impressed when I told him that she was adopted like him. It made him decide that he also wanted to be an Olympian. Adoption is a part of some Olympians’ lives. The stories are inspiring and hopeful. Adoption stories are always interesting to hear, and when they involve Olympians, the interest is even more piqued. 

Olympians Who Were Adopted

Olympians are known for their hard work, dedication, talent, strength, and endurance. When I think about Olympians who were adopted, I view it as a combination of the genes, physicality, and mental toughness from the birth parents and the support, sacrifice, and opportunity from the adoptive parents. By combining these attributes, the Olympians are able to train and compete at the top level and go to the Olympics. What an impressive feat!

Simone Biles

Also known as the GOAT (Greatest of all time) gymnast, Simone has dominated the gymnastic world for the last several years. She competed in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and won four gold medals and one bronze medal in the team, all-around, and event finals. She has some skills named after her because she was the first to complete and land them in competition. 

Simone’s first few years of life did not indicate that she would grow up to be an Olympian. From 2-3 until about 5 years old, she was in and out of foster care. Her biological mother’s parental rights were eventually terminated. She was adopted by her maternal grandfather, Ron, and his second wife, Nellie, at age six, along with her younger sister. Simone had said that she felt very blessed, healthy, safe, and loved. 

After she was adopted, her parents put her in gymnastics because of her natural abilities. They wanted to give her an outlet, and she thrived in gymnastics, quickly doing more skills. Ron and Nellie were her biggest cheerleaders and continue to support and cheer her on. It is inspiring to see them cheer her on in every competition. Because of the no spectator rule due to Covid, they have been unable to cheer Simone on in Tokyo but have been seen cheering from their home. 

Because of her upbringing and being adopted from foster care, Simone Biles supports children in foster care. Her and her family advocate and willingly share their story. They want children in foster care not to only be defined by that label but to see them as much more than that. Children in foster care deserve to be kids and feel loved and supported through their childhood and into adulthood. Simone Biles is inspiring on and off the gymnastic mat. She had a rough beginning, but with the support, love, and care from her parents, she was able to accomplish more than most people. I am convinced that she will continue to be a success in anything she does when she retires from gymnastics.

Yul Moldauer

Yul Moldauer is also a gymnast for Team USA. He competed in the team competition for Team USA and helped them place fifth in the Tokyo Olympics. He earned a spot to compete in the floor exercise as an individual event during the Olympics. 

He was born in Korea, and before he was a year old, he was adopted by his parents, Peter and Orsa Moldauer. They were initially told that because his biological mother had been on drugs, he may not develop into a functioning adult. He grew up in Colorado, and he did need speech therapy because he did not speak until he was 3.5 years old. He had a loud, high-pitched scream which affected him and his family in public places. He and his family were struggling. When he was seven, he started gymnastics. His mom saw him go across the monkey bars at school with totally straight legs while his friends’ legs were swinging back and forth. It became a great outlet for Yul. 

When he was ten, he started competing and went on to win state and regional meets. He competed in gymnastics for the University of Oklahoma. Yul won the NCAA all-around title in 2016. He also won the all-around national title in the 2017 National Championships. Being a part of Team USA is a dream come true for Yul. He said that not only will he be thinking of his family before he steps on the mat, but he will also be thinking about the fellow Asian-Americans watching a South Korean adoptee represent the United States. He said, “I hope it gives other young kids—how I was years ago—the hope and belief that it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you came from, you’re part of the United States, and you can represent this country like I am now.” 

Jordan Windle

Jordan Windle is a Team USA diver who will compete in the 10M platform event during the Tokyo Olympics. He was born in Cambodia, but his parents died when he was a few months old, so he was placed in an orphanage. Across the world, a single gay man was considering adoption and did not know if it was a possibility. This man went to Cambodia, and a very sick and malnourished 18-month-old Jordan was placed in his arms. Jordan was compared to Greg Louganis, so his father got him into diving when he was 7 years old. Jordan has a tattoo of the Cambodian flag to remind him of where he came from. He will represent the United States, but also Cambodia. This is a beautiful story of a father wanting to adopt and making it happen. 

Paige McPherson

Paige McPherson is the only female Taekwondo athlete to represent the United States in the Olympics three times. Paige was born and placed for adoption a few days after her birth. She was adopted by Dave and Susan McPherson. They also adopted four other children. 

Her older brother, Evan, competed in Taekwondo, and she became interested as well. She trained and worked hard with a former Olympic medalist. She ended up winning the bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics. Paige is also known as “McFierce” by her competitors. 

“I’m so lucky to have been adopted by such loving parents,” McPherson said. “I have such a loving family that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  Throughout my childhood, I learned how to deal with completely different personalities. And so, the Olympics are just a larger image of what I grew up with.  To experience that kind of lifestyle is truly a blessing.” 

Her father, Dave, has tried to help her get in touch with her birth parents. Paige has had the chance to talk to her birth mother through phone calls and social media. She met her biological brother and was amazed at how much they looked and acted alike. Adoption gave her opportunities and exposure to a sport that she would not otherwise be involved in. Paige did not medal in the Tokyo games.

Adoptive Parents

Brittney Reese

Brittney Reese is a four-time Olympian who competed in the long jump at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2012 London Olympics, 2016 Rio Olympics, and 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympics. She won the gold medal in London, the silver medal in Rio, and hopes to medal in the Tokyo Olympics. Before the Rio Olympics, she adopted her 8-year-old godson from a friend who could no longer raise him. He encourages her and is a big cheerleader for her.

Tessa Sanderson and Densign White

Tessa Sanderson is a British athlete who competed in throwing the javelin. She competed in six Olympics from 1984 to 1996. She won the gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. 

Densign White was an Olympic Judo athlete and represented Britain. He competed in three Olympics from 1984 to 1992. 

They married in 2010. After unsuccessful attempts at in vitro fertilization, they turned their hearts towards adoption. The couple started fostering 4 months old twins born eight weeks prematurely and then were allowed to adopt them a year later. Tessa has commented that her children are her and her husband’s whole world.

Basketball Players

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are known for their long basketball careers in the NBA for the Boston Celtics and LA Lakers, respectively, and playing for the Dream Team during the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games. The Dream Team won the gold medal during those Olympics. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are also both adoptive fathers. 

Larry Bird and his second wife adopted two children, a son and then a daughter. 

After announcing that he was HIV positive in 1991, Magic Johnson and his wife, Cookie, could not have more biological children. They adopted a daughter in 1995. When their daughter, Elisa, was 18, she found and developed a relationship with her birth mother, Dawn. In an interview, Dawn talked about how she could follow her daughter and see her grow up from afar. She said this helped so she did not worry about Elisa and could see she was happy. Dawn feels grateful for her daughter’s adoptive parents. 

Olympians Inspire

I have always loved watching the Olympics. Each Olympian’s story shows a strong dedication to their sport and hard work as well as mental toughness. I perk up when I hear that they were adopted because, as an adoptive mother, I see the combination of the Olympian’s birth family and adoptive family. I respect and love both families and what they gave to the Olympians to get them to the Olympics. The Olympics is the biggest stage for these athletes. They want to compete at their best and bring home a medal for their country, but sometimes this does not happen. But that does not mean that their journey is a failure. The Olympians should be celebrated for their dedication and strength. 

There is an inspiring ad during the Olympics, first introduced during the Superbowl, that features a Paralympian swimmer named Jessica Long. She was adopted when she was 13 months old. In the ad, her adoptive mother is shown talking on the phone in the kitchen while Jessica is swimming, featuring an orphanage, locker room, swimming competition, and the kitchen. The mother says, “It might not be easy, but it will be amazing.” This is a powerful statement about adoption, the Olympics, and life in general. It will be amazing.