American endurance rower and three-time paralympian Angela Madsen has a knack for accomplishment on the open water. She was the first woman with a disability to row across Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the out lesbian has done it twice: In 2009, she and teammate Helen Taylor became the first women to row across the Indian Ocean. In 2010, she was part of a team that circumnavigated Great Britain.
In April, she’ll storm the Pacific beachhead and make a run at history. She’s planning to row from Los Angeles, Calif. to Oahu, Hawaii and to be the first paraplegic to do it unaided.
“Ever since I flew over on a Hawaiian Airlines flight and was looking down at that water,” she told Hawaii News Now on January 28, “it was like, ‘I’m going to row that and I’m going to do it solo.’”
The attempt marks her first endurance attempt in six years. In 2014, she became the first paraplegic to row from California to Hawaii, but that was done as a team effort with fellow distance rower Tara Remington. This spring, a planned 100-day attempt will be completely self-contained with a boat that will have shelter and storage space. She also told Hawaii News Now the vessel will be equipped with a desalinator for fresh water, and GPS for navigation.
There will also be video cameras on board as part of a project by documentary filmmaker Soraya Simi, who is working on a feature documentary on Madsen’s life for release later this year. This planned voyage is a central focus of the film and because the attempt is unaided, it’ll take some innovation to chronicle it.
“We’re figuring out how to rig her boat so that she is an autonomous filmer and it simplifies her triggering the cameras on and off,” Simi stated to Hawaii News Now.
For Madsen, this journey is the latest chapter in an epic comeback. In 1993, Madsen was left paralyzed after a number of errors during surgery stemming from a sports injury suffered while on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. The resulting financial and personal stress cost her a home and a marriage. “When I got injured I thought everything was gone and I lost all hope,” she said.
Since learning to row in an adaptive rowing program in 1997, Madsen been a dynamo. She started an adaptive rowing program in Long Beach, Calif. in 1999, and from there built a second act as an athlete; she won a Paralympics bronze medal in 2012. Four years later, Madsen was one of 12 out paralympic athletes competing for gold in Rio. Her ocean voyages have placed her the Guinness Book of World Records.
Madsen has also a been a voice for disability rights and an LGBTQ activist as well. In 2015 she was a grand marshal of the Long Beach Pride Parade.