How Angela Madsen Rowed Into a New Life

Editor’s Note: After Angela Madsen suffered a spinal cord injury, she lost her military career and most of her possessions before reaching a turning point in her life.  That point, for Angela, was the day she was introduced to wheelchair sports.  She discovered adaptive rowing, and has soared to new heights as an international rower crossing oceans worldwide as part of elite teams. Part 3 of a four-part series.

Angela Madsen - Paralympic athlete, international rower

Angela Madsen - Paralympic athlete, international rower

Question: Angela, tell us about your turning point in life after spinal cord injury.

Madsen: Some of the guys at the hospital encouraged me to go to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. The Disabled American Veterans people sponsored me to go and paid for my airfare and hotel room.

At the Disabled American Veterans games, I signed-up to participate in javelin, shot putt and discus. I got gold medals in all the events, and I got back into body surfing.

Eventually, I built enough strength to where I could sit down on a surfboard backwards and surf. To get down to the water, I asked the lifeguards to put me on the board in the back of their truck and ride me to the edge of the water. They would then drive me out on wave runners, so I could surf-in to shore.

Question: What did you do after your first experience participating in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games?

Madsen: I got into wheelchair basketball. One of the guys I met at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games said they had a coach at the hospital. I met with the coach and his teams. He said he coached the women’s basketball team in Sunrise, Florida, and asked me to play with them.

So, I got a basketball wheelchair from the VA and bounced around between a couple of teams. While I was playing with one of these teams, they also had an outdoor adventure program, which is where I learned to row.  My rowing instructors were from Pacific West Rowing at Dana Point Harbor in Orange County, California.

Angela loves the sense of freedom from being on the water with friends.

Angela loves the sense of freedom from being on the water with friends.

Question: What did you like about rowing?

Madsen: I was able to be on the water, I wasn’t sitting in the wheelchair, and I love anything that has to do with the ocean. When I started rowing, I found out that I was good at it and had a talent for it. This team sponsored me and sent me to Indianapolis, Indiana, for a regatta. I basically won every event I entered. To date, I’ve won 70 medals for rowing.

Question: How did your friends and supporters help you get more involved in adaptive rowing?

Madsen: One of my friends was a flight attendant, and she’d get me buddy passes to go to rowing competitions. Larry Lonergan ran Pacific West Rowing, and he built adaptive equipment for our boats, including the fixed seats and the outriggers. He’s been involved in adaptive rowing for a long time, and his company sponsored me for my first competition.

Question: What made you decide to start rowing across oceans?

Madsen: I started taking my little boat out on races in San Diego,California, where they had a bay-to-bay race from Pacific Beach to Mission Bay Harbor, about 20-miles away. Then I found out about a race that went to Catalina Island. Tori Murden, who participated in adaptive rowing, was the first woman to row solo across the ocean, and I was in the boat that followed her.

I wanted to do the same thing, but I kept telling myself that I’d never be able to do it. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a double mastectomy in 2000, I changed my thinking about rowing across the ocean and started training.

Question: What was your first big break in joining an elite rowing team?

Madsen: Joe Le Guen and the Amputee Coalition of America were looking for a male amputee to row across the Atlantic Ocean. He’d formed a team of four amputees, including himself, Franck Festor from Metz,France, and Pierre Denis from Belgium. I responded to his ad and was very persistent in asking him if he’d take a female.

Joe and Franck came to California, and I took them rowing and surfing. Joe finally agreed to let me be a member of the team. We trained for a year. Our goal was to row from New York to Belgium in 2006. Sadly, we lost a couple of sponsors and couldn’t financially get to the starting line.

See Angela discuss the path she took to become a global athlete in international rowing, her outlook is fantastic:


Next: Internationally-Known Rower Angela Madsen Says “I Can” and Doesn’t Let Her Disability or Funding Stop Her

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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2 Responses to How Angela Madsen Rowed Into a New Life

  1. Pingback: Internationally-Known Rower Angela Madsen Approached the Valley of the Shadow of Death « UroMed Catheter Health Blog

  2. Pingback: Internationally-Known Rower Angela Madsen Approached the Valley of the Shadow of Death

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