Three-time Paralympian Angela Madsen Dies on Pacific Rowing Crossing


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Angela Madsen, a three-time Paralympian and Marine veteran who aimed to be the first paraplegic and oldest woman to row the Pacific Ocean, was declared dead by the Coast Guard at 11pm PST on Monday, June 22, 2020.

Madsen had been at sea completely alone for 60 days, having rowed 1,114 nautical miles from Los Angeles. She was 1,275 nautical miles from her destination, Honolulu.

Madsen before departing on her ill-fated journey across the Pacific. (Photos courtesy Soraya Simi/Row of Life)

Madsen’s voyage was the subject of a documentary film, so although she was alone she was checking in with filmmakers and her wife, Debra, frequently via satellite. After not hearing from her for several hours since her last update (Sunday morning, June 21, at 9am) when she said was going into the water to fix her bow anchor, a search and rescue was initiated. An aircraft was dispatched and a cargo vessel re-routed to check on her. They confirmed she was deceased upon arrival.

“We are processing this devastating loss,” partners and filmmakers Debra Madsen and Soraya Simi wrote on the expedition website. “Angela was a warrior, as fierce as they come.  A life forged by unbelievable hardship, she overcame it all and championed the exact path she envisioned for herself since she was a little girl. To row an ocean solo was her biggest goal.  She knew the risks better than any of us and was willing to take those risks because being at sea made her happier thananything else. She told us time and again that if she died trying, that is how she wanted to go.”

A lifelong athlete, Angela sustained a serious back injury while in the military in her early 20s, and underwent corrective surgery at the VA hospital that went completely wrong. She woke up ten hours later a paraplegic.

Despite this horrible event, Angela persevered and found adaptive sports as a refuge, excelling in rowing. She eventually went to the Paralympics three times and placed bronze in both rowing and shot-put. Soon after, she set her sights on rowing oceans, for which she earned six-Guinness world records and became a leader in the rowing world.

“In a year of such tumult and bad news, Angela’s row was a beacon of light that gave us something inspiring to cheer for,” the website statement reads. “We all wanted her to succeed. We know she could have.  How we choose to celebrate her memory can still determine that success.

Madsen in a POV from her boat’s cockpit.

Madsen did not have a support boat along, bringing all her own food with her and using a desalinator to make freshwater. She had planned to row 12 out of every 24 hours for up to 4 months. She would have been the first paraplegic and oldest woman to do so.

Madsen’s Boat: Row of Life

Row of Life is a 20’ long, 6’ wide ocean rowing boat. It was custom built by James Fabrizao in the U.K. to sustain life at sea for long ocean crossings. It is equipped with all updated marine electronics, GPS, satellite phone, solar panels, a desalinator. It is self-righting. Angela slept in the aft bunk and used the other for storage. Food was stored in the deck hatches. It included a life raft, EPIRB, and two extra sets of oars.

Madsen’s Rowing Career

2007: Atlantic Ocean Crossing: 66 days at sea. Rowed with one other man, Frank Fester, an amputee who spoke only French.

2008: Beijing Paralympics: placed 7th for rowing.

2009: Indian Ocean Crossing: Dubbed the “pirate row,” Madsen rowed for 58 days at sea with eight other rowers.

2010: Circumnavigation of Great Britain: 51 days with three other women.

2011: Second Atlantic Ocean Crossing: 47 days with crew of 16— very first ocean-rowing catamaran.

2012: London Paralympics: Awarded Bronze medal for shot put and Paralympic record.

2013: First solo attempt across Pacific Ocean: Rescued at sea day 8.

2014: Pacific Ocean Crossing (II): Rowed from California to Hawaii in 60 days with Tara Remington.2016: Rio de Janerio Paralympics: 7th and 8th place for shot put and javelin.

2020: Second solo attempt across Pacific Ocean: Launched Friday, April 24th 2020 at 12:46AM from Marina del Rey.


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