The young man sitting across from me is slight of frame, small even. At the same time, he exudes strength and athleticism, caged energy a tangible aura surrounding him. His physical stature is somewhat misleading in that he completely fills a space the moment he steps into it.
The first time I met him in person, his youthful first impression led to surprise when I learned he is 30 years old. Within seconds, however, his life experience and maturity are evident. He articulates his passion with professionalism seasoned with that tempered energy in a way that engages listeners immediately, me included.
He is Jordan Malone, two-time Olympian from Denton and another of the famous among us. Jordan is the speedskater who won the silver medal for the USA in the 2014 games and the bronze in the 2010 games. Jordan made Denton, Texas, a city among the Olympic places that produce champions. We are part of his story, and his story is part of Olympic history, where the finest athletes compete in an international arena for the title of “Greatest.” Jordan won. And so did we.
He was a mere 5 years old when he told his mom, Peggy Aitken, he wanted to be a speedskater. Put yourself in mom’s place if you can: single, raising a son on your own, living hand-to-mouth in Denton. If you’re like me, perhaps you reply with, “Super!” while thinking to yourself that it’s a phase he’ll grow out of. That’s not how this story goes, however.
His mom Peggy supported Jordan’s journey step-by-step. Inline skating was first. After joining the inline skating team at Denton’s Spinning Wheels rink (now a salon) and despite the very real challenges of dyslexia, asthma and ADHD, Jordan was a regional star before he was 12. And his skating was not limited to the rink. He skated all over Denton, Peggy trying to keep up on her moped. He skated his way to the top of the inline skating world, an international champion in his teens. Skating helped him focus, and he championed in the classroom, as well, with straight A’s.
His childhood dream really gained traction when, at age 20 in 2004, Jordan switched to ice. “Much about inline skating transfers, but it’s still a whole different sport on ice,” he says. Despite the learning curve and being in Texas where winter sport winners are rare specimens at best, Jordan came in seventh in the 2006 Olympic trials. Had it not been for skating on an injury (he had surgery for a broken ankle just three weeks before the trials), his Olympic career would have started there. Instead, when the 2010 games rolled around, he was more than ready for the team, and he made it. You know now how that turned out.
For Peggy, there are no regrets. Certainly, sacrifices were made all along the way. Jordan’s dreams were hers. She taught him he could be anything he wanted to be, and she lived that out with him, for him.
Against all odds, Jordan became everything he and she imagined.
Small for his age. Dyslexic. Asthmatic. Definitely not from wealthy stock. Sound like a promising Olympian? Yet here he is holding his medals out for me to hold. This is his real passion.
“I want kids, people everywhere, to know that if you dream it and are willing to work, you can be and do anything,” Jordan says. He goes on to say that many Olympians have similar stories to share, which is why he has founded The Shining Examples Foundation.
The foundation’s mission is funding former Olympians’ efforts to inspire and give back in ways similar to Jordan’s. In fact, just since returning from Sochi, Russia, Jordan has visited more than 30 schools and spoken with more than 15,000 kids about his journey of triumph over adversity.
Smudging my fingers across his beautiful (and heavy!) medals, I am concerned perhaps I am mishandling these treasures. “Not at all!” he exclaims. “I’m going after a Guinness World Record for my Olympic medals becoming ‘The Most Touched Olympic Medals in History.’ I’m trying to put my medals back into the hands of the people I won them for, in world-record numbers.”
He intends to reach 25,000 kids this year in hopes of inspiring this next generation that “they can.” And no doubt, he will.
I believe. And I’m in.
KIM PHILLIPS is vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau at the Denton Chamber of Commerce. She loves promoting Denton’s original, independent spirit through the city’s sense of place and cast of many characters. She can be reached at email@example.com.