Rest in Peace, Angela Madsen
If you ever attended a California Abilities Expo, you probably had the pleasure of meeting Angela Madsen. The small army of rowing machines alongside RowOfLife, the boat that saw Angela through more than one ocean row, were tough to miss. She and her wife, Debra Bogan Madsen, were always warm and welcoming to the countless attendees brimming with curiosity to know more about Angela's amazing adventures as a Paralympian and a Guinness record holding ocean rower.
It breaks our hearts to say good-bye to this beautiful force of nature.
"Angela was fearless," said Lew Shomer, co-owner of Abilities Expo. "Being in her company challenged one to do whatever they wanted as, in her mind, nothing was impossible. She proved it every day of her life and her presence at the Abilities Shows will surely be missed."
These sentiments were echoed by Abilities Expo Co-owner David Korse. "Angela was one of the most inspiring people I have ever had the pleasure and honor to know," he said. "She had a kind and generous heart and she made it her mission to help others."
Angela Madsen's Final Row
In April, Angela set sail in RowOfLife from Marina Del Rey, California bound for Honolulu. This was not her first Pacific Ocean trek, but this one was solo. Completing this voyage would have earned her the triple honor of being the oldest women, first paraplegic and first openly gay athlete to do so.
Deb and documentary filmmaker Soraya Simi followed Angela closely via satellite as she made her way across the vast Pacific ocean. On May 10th with only water and sky in sight, Angela celebrated her 60th birthday.
"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," said Deb and Soraya in a statement on RowOfLife.org. "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."
On the morning of June 21, after 60 days at sea and approaching the halfway mark of her journey, Angela texted that she was going into the water to repair her bow anchor. When she did not check in with Deb and the GPS revealed that RowOfLife appeared to be adrift, they enlisted the aid of the U.S. Coast Guard.
A C17 was dispatched and a cargo ship on its way to Tahiti rerouted to her location, but it was still a half day away. The plane was the first to observe the heartbreaking reality. They saw Angela in the water, apparently lifeless and tethered to her aimless boat. Poor satellite coverage prevented them from communicating the sad news home. At 11:00 pm on Monday, June 22, the cargo ship recovered Angela's body and continued its voyage to Tahiti.
A Life Well Lived
The shock of Angela's death has been deeply felt throughout the communities she touched whose causes she championed. The outpouring of love and support has been both poignant and constant from around the world, including from athletes, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, Marines, veterans with disabilities and more.
In honor and celebration of our fallen hero, Soraya is determined to complete the documentary and is attempting to reclaim RowOfLife from its solitary drift. "This is no longer a solo row—it's a team sport," she wrote on Instagram. "We are going to help finish what Angela started."
Friends have established a GoFundMe to offset these costs and bring Angela home from Tahiti. Because of COVID-19, there are only weekly flights out of Tahiti and price estimates are $10,000 for a flight to Vancouver alone.
Soraya recalls once asking Angela what she does on bad days. "She said row harder."
Throughout her life, that is precisely what Angela did, whether the days were good or bad.
She was injured while serving in the Marines and the surgery that was supposed to repair her spine caused her to become a paraplegic. When that injury cost her job, her relationships and even her home…she rowed harder.
She set lofty goals for herself and—as she rowed across the Indian Ocean, around the British Isles, across the Atlantic and from California to Hawaii—she racked up 14 Guinness Book of World records. And she rowed harder.
She represented America once again as a Paraylmpian, competing in rowing, shotput and javelin and earning multiple medals. She rowed harder. At a Canadian track meet, her shotput throw set a world record. Harder still.
The impact of Angela's advocacy on the community of people with disabilities through her non-profit California Adaptive Rowing Program and others has been far-reaching. And her legacy of relentlessly pursuing her goals will continue to empower long after we say good-bye.
To "Bring our Warrior Home" and support Angela Madsen's GoFundMe, visit this link.
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