A former Marine with one impressive athletic resume, Angela Madsen is a Paralympic rower who’s now passing on what she loves to others. Also in the Guinness World Records six times for her rowing prowess and a record holder in her other favorite adapted sport – shot-put – she’s a natural fighter.
Uncannily, rowing and shot-put weren’t sports she played pre-injury (basketball was her favorite sport), but these sports transformed her life post-injury, helping her move on and see that a fulfilled life was still possible.
Why she’s fearless
Growing up in Fairbanks, Ohio, Angela dreamed of warmer weather, moving to Long Beach, California after high school. Pre-injury, she became a mother and joined the Marines (she was assigned to police duty). While a Marine, Angela joined the Marine’s Women’s Basketball Team, a passion that allowed her to travel the world, but it also unfortunately is the cause of her injury.
Tripped during a game in 1993, two discs in Angela’s lower back slipped, causing her massive back pain. The blow of paralysis however didn’t occur however until she underwent surgery to repair discs. Surgeons accidentally removed the wrong disc, paralyzing Angela at L2.
Finding herself a paraplegic suddenly in her 30’s, her entire life began to crumble. She was depressed, her husband (she had married) left her, the military didn’t want to pay her medical bills and to top it off, she lost her house. Finding herself homeless and even using storage at Disneyland to keep her things, Angela’s life was headed in the wrong direction….until she went to the National Veterans Games.
It was here where she discovered wheelchair-basketball, which is one of the first adapted sports she tried. This helped, but she still felt depressed about her paralysis. It wasn’t until she fell on some subway tracks in San Francisco a couple of years later (thinking she broke her neck) until she began to appreciate what she still had instead of constantly mourning when she lost.
This is the attitude that got her to try adaptive rowing, a sport that has etched her into the Guinness Book of World Records for multiple ocean crossings. In 2007, she made her first entry into the Guinness Book of World Records when she became the first woman with a disability to cross the Atlantic Ocean by rowing. She was also the first woman ever (disability or not) to cross the Indian Ocean a few years later. She went around the entirety of Great Britain as well. Long before all of this in 2000, she founded CARP (the California Adaptive Rowing Programs), which is still active today.
At the age of 47 in 2008, Angela next went to the Paralympics for rowing. While she didn’t win a medal, she missed the bronze by just a second. Angela finally won a Paralympic medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games in shot-put actually and not rowing, throwing the put so far that she beat all previous Paralympic records.
Angela’s latest feat was in May 2014 when she left her hometown of Long Beach, California and rowed all the way to Honolulu, Hawaii, taking 66 days. She brought along an able-bodied friend as well to ensure she wouldn’t need to call the Coast Guard in case she got into a pickle.
Now 55 years old, Angela isn’t stopping any time soon. She loves surfing (on her knees), she’s remarried and she’s a highly coveted adapted rowing coach in addition to running both of her foundations, Row of Life, and CARP, which helps Californians with disabilities experience rowing. She also published her memoirs Rowing Against the Wind last year, which is available at Barnes & Noble.
Thank you Angela for giving back to the adapted athletics community in such a passionate way. Rowing is such an inclusive sport, as you like to say. Even upper-level quads can take part! Our community is surely better because of you.
Have you tried rowing?
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