Angela Madsen - Photo Facebook Angela Madsen
Angela Madsen - Photo Facebook Angela Madsen

“Don’t worry about getting a chair. I’ve brought my own.” These were Angela Madsen’s first words before she started, probably yet another, interview.

These words displayed her humour, her ability to put people at ease, her humility and her disability.

From the United States, Madsen had a life that knew hardship. While in the military she became disabled due to a botched surgery following an accident playing basketball. Madsen recounts at the time the physician at the hospital saying, “my physical condition was a waste of human life.” Said Madsen, “it pissed me off.” When the military refused to pay Madsen’s mounting medical bills, she ended up homeless.

An ability to turn her life around, Madsen re-found sport in her life by taking up wheelchair basketball. She was then invited to a learn-to-row class and discovered a love for rowing. Madsen was one of the pioneers of the, then called, adaptive rowing – now para rowing. She raced at the first ever international event for adaptive rowing, the 2002 World Rowing Championships. Madsen took silver in the single sculls. American Scott Brown finished first and would later become her doubles partner.

Together, Madsen and Brown dominated the next three years in the adaptive mixed double sculls. They took gold at the 2003, 2004 and 2005 World Rowing Championships. The duo continued together through to the very first appearance of adaptive rowing at the Paralympic Games, the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. As part of the growing wave of adaptive rowing, Madsen and Brown finished seventh.

During this time Madsen had taken up ocean rowing and even convinced Brown to take part in the Catalina Crossing race off the coast of Los Angeles. This 59km race went from Marina del Rey to Catalina Island. Their boat overturned, they got back in and rowed the race in 9 ½ hours. Madsen called the race ‘punishing’.

This was just the beginning of Madsen’s ocean rowing adventures. In 2007 Madsen became the first woman with a disability to row across the Atlantic Ocean. In 2009 she was one of the first two women to row across the Indian Ocean. Madsen has also been part of a rowing team that circumnavigated the coast of Great Britain.

Madsen then went on to compete at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the shot put and javelin throw. It earned her a shot put bronze medal. For the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Madsen competed again in the shot put and javelin throw.

World Rowing interviewed Madsen at the 2005 World Rowing Championships where she won gold with Brown. Madsen described her life.

“I’ve been able to do most everything but in a different way. People think we have it good. We get the best parking, the best seats at the movies. But people block handicap access, they stand up in movies and block the view.”

Madsen described getting inspiration from her grandkids. Also from Kim Hamrock, US surfer and women’s longboard champion and known as ‘danger woman’. And in rowing from American Olympic rower, IOC member and former vice-president of FISA, Anita DeFrantz.

“I do know that whatever my purpose is in this life, my differently-abled, physically-challenged, broken-down, beaten-up body seems to be the vehicle required for me to achieve it. . . I am purpose driven; I may suffer pain and not walk upright in this life, but when I go home, I will not suffer the walk through the gate. I can live with that. If I could go back and change things, I would not. It would be nice not to have to suffer so much pain but, hey, that’s just the way it is. . . In the beginning, I was angry. But now, I completely understand.”

— excerpt from Angela’s memoir, Rowing Against the Wind