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Paralympian Angela Madsen Dies at 60 Rowing From Los Angeles to Hawaii

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Paralympian Angela Madsen has died at the age of 60, according to her wife and friend, on June 22. Madsen was about halfway through a solo rowing trip from Los Angeles to Hawaii when her body was discovered in the water.

Madsen wanted to be the first paraplegic, openly gay and oldest woman to complete the Pacific Ocean feat. According to the New York Times, Madsen had already rowed the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific journey with a partner. This was Madsen’s second attempt at the journey solo.

As she embarked on the trip, Madsen updated fans via social media and kept in close contact with her wife, Debra, and friend Soraya Simi, who was making a documentary. Debra lost satellite contact with Madsen when she attempted to repair a boat system nearly halfway to Hawaii. Madsen was found dead after Simi called the coast guard.

“Angela was a warrior, as fierce as they come,” Debra and Simi wrote in a statement, adding:

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 than anything else. She told us time and again that if she died trying, that is how she wanted to go.

Madsen had an incredible career as an athlete, which started during her military service in her 20s. She experienced a major back injury that she had surgery to correct more than 10 years later. The surgery went wrong, and Madsen was paraplegic. According to Madsen’s 2014 memoir “Rowing for Life,” her partner at the time said they “did not sign on to be with someone in a wheelchair,” left, and stole everything Madsen had.

After experiencing homelessness for several months and surviving an accident where she fell out of her wheelchair, Madsen returned to her athletic roots. She joined the Veterans Wheelchair Games in the 1990s, winning competitions, before discovering adaptive rowing.

Madsen’s heart lay in rowing for much of the rest of her career. She won several medals with the U.S. rowing team and participated in three Paralympic games. She founded the California Adaptive Rowing Program in 1999.

Fans, friends and colleagues reacted to Madsen’s death on social media and shared condolences.

View this post on Instagram

Day 2. The count resets. Now we navigate moving forward without Angela. She brought us halfway. Time for us to pick up where she left off. Deb and I are overwhelmed by the number of messages of people sharing our grief. We had no idea so many were following this journey. As of yesterday, this is no longer a solo row— it’s a team sport. We are going to help finish what Angela started. Friday morning I am flying to Hawaii to help recuperate RowOfLife and retrieve the cameras and footage on board. Deb is busy arranging how Angela’s body will be transported to Los Angeles from Tahiti once the cargo vessel POLYNESIA arrives in a week. There is a GoFundMe to help offset these costs— link in bio. Once I asked Angela what she does on bad days. She said row harder. That has stuck with me since. It is Deb’s and Angela’s wish that I complete this film. Carrying someone’s story is a heavy responsibility, one my crew and I signed up for, and one we will see through. Thank you for all the love. We’re feeling it. ❤️ @soraya.simi #rowharder

A post shared by Angela Madsen (@rowoflife) on

Header image via Angela Madsen/Twitter

Originally published: July 2, 2020
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