People of PN: Angela Madsen

Angela Madsen shows off her Paralympic medal and solo rowing boat during the 2013 Los Angeles Abilities Expo. Photo Christopher Di Virgilio / PN

Get to know PVA life member and US Marine veteran Angela Madsen

Every so often, in some part of the world—in this case, Long Beach, California—word comes of a person with an amazing life tapestry. Angela Madsen, a lifetime member of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), is such a person.

Woven in the early parts of Madsen’s tapestry are threads of incredible hardship. Madsen was in the Marine Corps when she was injured while on duty in 1993. She sustained a spinal cord injury, L1 incomplete, a condition further complicated by surgical errors. She lost her job in engineering due to the months she was in the hospital, and as a result, was homeless for a time.

Angela Madsen camps on the front steps of the Washington, D.C., VA to support local veterans during the Occupy Veterans Affairs earlier this year. Photo Madsen.

Since the spinal cord injury, Madsen has undergone a double mastectomy for breast cancer and numerous other surgeries and treatments relating to carpal tunnel and ulnar nerve problems. She has also been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease pertaining to the fatigability of muscles.

Despite it all, Madsen has rocketed to the position of marvelous athlete and world-class inspiration.

Madsen was, in fact, always an athlete, and continues to be every day. Madsen has played and continues to participate in all kinds of wheelchair and adaptive sports, but one of her more exceptional passions is rowing.

Madsen has rowed non-stop around Britain, a 2010 mile stretch from London’s Tower Bridge to London’s Tower Bridge (made very challenging due to unpredictable weather patterns), and across both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. In doing the latter, she became the first person with disabilities to row across two oceans and the first woman to row across the Indian Ocean.

In 2009, Madsen was added to the Guinness Book of World Records for her achievements.

Madsen shares her skills through her work as a rowing coach and founder of 501-c3 nonprofit organization called The California Adaptive Rowing Program, which provides free rowing participation and instruction to people with disabilities.

Madsen says, “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 knew I was going to row an ocean. I did not allow the situation of being a woman and a paraplegic stop me.

On her web site, Madsen displays a Latin phrase which reflects the above philosophy: “Vita mutatur, non tollitur.” Translated: Life is changed, not taken away.


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