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

Editor’s Note:  Angela Madsen is a 50-year-old paraplegic grandmother of three but don’t let that fool you. In 2008, she was the first paraplegic woman to row 3000 miles across the Atlantic and has broken numerous records since then.  Today,  we learn about her determination as we watch her take on the high seas.  Part 4 of a four-part series.

Angela Madsen - Paralympic athlete, international rower

Angela Madsen - Paralympic athlete, international rower

Question: Angela, what did you do when your first big ocean race was cancelled?

Madsen: When you decide you want to row across the ocean, train for it and then the trip gets cancelled, you sort of die an emotional death. You’re so committed to a project like this that it takes over your entire life. There’s a grieving period you go through when it falls through.

Instead of giving up, I asked Joe Le Guen where I could get a boat. I decided to do it solo. Joe suggested I take Franck Festor with me, because he was really devastated that he couldn’t row the Atlantic. Franck and I were the odd couple. I spoke no French, and he spoke no English. Franck was feeling really bad about the Atlantic row being cancelled. In 2007, I emailed him using Google Translator and suggested getting a smaller boat and doing the Mid-Atlantic Crossing.

We immediately both started to get excited. The race was from the La Gomera in the Canary Islands in Spain to Antigua in the West Indies. The distance is 2550 nautical miles, and the race is primarily for able-bodied rowers. However, Stewart Boreham, who had cerebral palsy, rowed it solo in 2003. He could walk and use a sliding seat in his boat. He was the first disabled man to row across the Atlantic.

Question: How much commitment did this require of you financially?

Madsen: We bought a boat from two amputees in Corsica. Franck handled getting the boat to the race site, and I handled the entry forms and the fees for the race. The fee was $15,000, and the total cost for the race was $150,000. We had tough time getting sponsors, so we pinched pennies and used previously-used equipment. We got the costs down to $86,000. Franck bought the boat for 30,000 euros.

Going to sea for 67 days? Welcome to your bathroom.

Going to sea for 67 days? Welcome to your bathroom.

Through fundraisers, I was able to raise $5,000. I also sold some of my surfboards and took on a roommate for 2 years. I started sending only e-cards to my three granddaughters, instead of lavishing them with gifts. I made monthly payments on the entry fee and paid the last payment 2-months before the race. I incurred a lot of credit-card debt on the final amount of money we needed for the race, but we were finally in the race.

Question: Tell us about your journey with Franck.

Madsen: It took us 67 days to make it across, and we were the only physically-challenged athletes (learn more at We were in the boat rowing the entire 67 days. We ate dehydrated meals and carried a desalinator, which takes the salt out of the salt water to make it drinkable. You can’t carry enough water for this crossing, so we had to use seawater. Our boat had to be outfitted for the desalinator. Our toilet was a bucket.

After rowing across the Atlantic  in 2007, I made the Paralympics team in rowing. Although we didn’t get a medal, we were only seven-tenths of a second from the medal. So, once again I’d reached the elite level of a sport. After the Paralympics in 2008, I was asked to skipper a boat going across the Indian Ocean.

See Angela and Franck take on the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat through highlights from their trip below. 30-foot waves!


Question: What was your adventure like across the Indian Ocean?

Madsen: Woodvale, the company that organized the Atlantic race, had started organizing races for theIndian Ocean. They’d built a special boat they wanted us to use to set a speed record and be the first to cross the Indian Ocean. I’d be the only person in a wheelchair on a boat with seven able-bodied rowers. There was one other woman on the boat, Helen Taylor, and the rest were men.

I delegated responsibility. I worked with boat builders on design, rigging and staging of the boat, and I kept the crew together. We had to make sure the crew had training classes. Everyone needed to know a little about everything about the crossing and the boat.

We couldn’t have just one member know everything, because if that member got hurt or sick or the captain went overboard, the crew had to know how to finish the race. I had to develop the watch system and decide who would row and when. We were just trying to set the fastest time.

I was the first of two women, along with Helen Taylor, to do it. That attempt, which was sponsored by Woodville, was 3,100 miles, and we spent 58 days in the boat in 2009.

Arriving at your destination is reason for celebration, especially when you've been rowing for more than 2 months to get there!

Arriving at your destination is reason for celebration, especially when you've been rowing for more than 2 months to get there!

Question: What’s in the future for you?

Madsen: I’ve rowed across all the oceans except the two Arctic Oceans and the Pacific. I’ve made the Paralympics team for track and field, shot putt and javelin. I plan to row the Pacific in 2013, rowing from California to Hawaii. I really hope I can get a sponsor for that one. I’ve done three ocean crossings, and I’ve circumnavigated Great Britain in a rowboat. Sponsors are finally taking me more seriously now, because they know I can do what I set-out to accomplish.

Question: What do you like about rowing across oceans, and why do you do it?

Madsen: Just being out on the ocean is amazing. There’s nothing that equals the thrill you get when you come into a port after being-out for so-many days rowing. You know you’ve accomplished something that’s major not only in your life, but in all the lives of other people with disabilities. I know that I can’t do it forever and that one day the clock will expire on my ability to row this long and far. But while I can, I want to put in as many miles rowing as I possibly can.

Angela wants to use her life as an example for her beautiful granddaughters.

Angela wants to use her life as an example for her beautiful granddaughters.

Question: How old are your grandchildren, and what do they think about Grandma rowing across oceans?

Madsen: They’re 7-, 9- and 16-years old. The first time I rowed across an ocean, they were worried. They go on a roller coaster of emotions from being worried about me to being proud of me to complaining that I don’t spend enough time with them. They’re all uniquely different, so they all probably have different opinions about my rowing.

However, I want my three granddaughters, Cheyenne, Angel and Amanda, to know that no matter how bad things can get, that they are not totally powerless and there are still choices to make. Situation and circumstance should never be allowed to dictate who we are and what we will be able to achieve in our lifetime. Allowing situation and circumstance to oppress us is a choice.

I want them to be happy and successful, to dream big and set goals for themselves realizing possibilities and potential for success, being hopeful and willing to do what is necessary to achieve those goals. The best way I know how to do this is to make my life an example to them.

Question: What would you say to young, disabled people who want to get into water sports?

Madsen: If you feel compelled to do something, whether it’s a sport or something else, don’t allow your disability to stop you. There’s always a way to train-up for a physical task or study and learn for a mental task.

Question: What do you see as your greatest achievement as a person with a spinal-cord injury?

Madsen: After you have an injury like mine, you usually start counting your losses rather than your blessings. It’s hard to see how an injury like this is a blessing and how it can be a positive course in your life. You can’t achieve anything as long as you see your injury as an anchor you have to drag.

My injury has absolutely been a blessing to me. It has shown me how to be a more positive person and how to reinvent myself. I was really good at the drafting job I did, but I was sitting at a computer 12 hours a day. Plus, I was a workaholic and didn’t have the skills that I have now. I didn’t know how to make the right choices in life. Right now, I’m a happier person. I’m more positive and outgoing, and I’ve achieved many things in my life that I never would have been able to achieve, if not for my spinal cord injury.

Question: What’s your one biggest accomplishment?

Madsen: Starting a non-profit rowing program – the California Adaptive Rowing Program ( – at the Long Beach Rowing Association and teaching others with disabilities how to row.

UroMed is proud to support Angela’s non-profit organization. The mission of the California Adaptive Rowing Program is to provide instruction and training for competitive and recreational opportunities in the sport of rowing to physically and developmentally challenged individuals. 

Rowers and volunteers learn:

  • Basic skills of boat handling
  • Goal setting
  • Teamwork
  • Personal Safety
  • Basic boating Guidelines
  • Accident prevention and rescue

For rowing schedules, to volunteer or to make a tax deductible donation to help CARP assist disabled athletes in realization and the fulfillment of their goals, please contact:

California Adaptive Rowing Programs
3350 E.7thSt. # 231 Long Beach, CA., 90804

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

About UroMed Catheters
Headquartered in Suwanee, GA [a suburb of Atlanta], UroMed is one of the nation’s leading providers of single-use catheters, urological and disposable medical supplies, including intermittent catheters, closed system catheters, condom catheters, pediatric catheters and continence care products. UroMed is nationally accredited for Medicare reimbursement and most state Medicaid plans, and partners with private health insurance providers and health plans to provide patients with single-use catheters, catheter kits and incontinence products. UroMed also has seven staffed regional offices located in Boston, MA; Columbia, SC; Jacksonville, FL; Dallas, TX; Carlsbad, CA; Knoxville, TN; Richmond, VA; and Baton Rouge, LA; enabling next-day delivery after a customer’s initial medical supply order. For more information, please visit or call 1-800-841-1233.

2 Responses to Internationally-Known Rower Angela Madsen Says “I Can” and Doesn’t Let Her Disability Stop Her

  1. Pingback: How Angela Madsen Rowed Into a New Life « UroMed Catheter Health Blog

  2. Pingback: How Angela Madsen Rowed Into a New Life

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