Athlete Spotlight: Angela Madsen

Angela Madsen is a woman of many talents, including rowing, discus, motivational speaking, engineering, and especially connecting people to a particular cause or goal. When Ready, Set, Gold!  sent us their nomination for Angela, we knew right away she would be one of the recipients for our Athletes in Excellence Award.


While serving in the United States Marine Corps, Angela sustained injuries to her back which caused her to be discharged from service. Angela went on to become a mechanic, study mechanical engineering and landed a job in her field. However, her injuries became increasingly debilitating, and in 1993 she underwent surgery to repair the damage. She thought within a year after the surgery, she would be walking and surfing.

The surgery went horribly wrong. After 11 hours on the operating table, having the wrong disc removed, the wrong hardware implanted, and unnecessary drilling into her spine, Angela was left paralyzed. In the process of her recovery and waiting for financial assistance from the VA, Angela lost her job, her home, and all hope. She was living in the parking lot of Disney Land and storing her valuables in the lockers of the theme park.


The next several years were spent living day-to-day, as she maneuvered through her new life as a paraplegic. She experienced another life-changing injury when she landed head first onto some train tracks after her wheelchair had become stuck in a crack. As she began to heal from this injury and regained feeling in her hands – the nerve had been affected from the damage to her neck in the fall – Angela realized she still possessed great ability and still had so much more to lose. From there she held a new appreciation for the life she had.


In high school Angela was voted “Most likely to become an Olympic athlete.” While she certainly had lost that dream after her injury and botched surgery, slowly that prophecy began to take a new shape. After attending the Veterans Wheelchair Games for two years, in 1997 Angela competed on both men’s and women’s team as a Division I athlete. The next year Angela began rowing, and from there her athletic success launched her onto a completely new path.

The list of athletic achievements below do not even come close to painting a full picture of how Angela has changed her own life – and the lives of many others – with her passion for sport. She used her background in engineering to “properly rig boats and position adaptive fixed seat rowers in boats so they could safely participate in the sport.” From this innovation Angela founded the California Adaptive Rowing Program (CARP), which provides instruction and training for competitive and recreational opportunities in the sport of rowing to physically and intellectually-challenged individuals.

If anything, Angela is fueled by challenge and positive change. This is evident in her long-distance rowing challenges. She most recently rowed from Long Beach, CA to Hawaii with Tara Remington of New Zealand. The pair spent two months on the Pacific Ocean, traversing over 2,500 miles without a support boat – all to raise money for CARP. Angela is no stranger to this kind of long-distance rowing, as she accomplished similar feats each year in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011. In 2008 and 2012, she was dedicated to training for the Paralympics.


We hope you will join us in continuing to follow Angela and her rowing adventures. Her dedication to sport and the community of adaptive sports is incredible, and we are honored and humbled to welcome her into our inaugural class of Athletes in Excellence. Congratulations, Angela!

Athletic Accomplishments

• 2012 Paralympics – Discus, Bronze medal
• 2008 Paralympics – Rowing
• Amateur Athletic Foundation named Madsen a recipient of the Women Who Inspire Us award
• 2012 Paralympic Track & Field Trials – Gold (Shot Put), Silver (Javelin)
• 2011 Parapan American Games – Silver (Shot Put)
• 2008 Paralympic Games – Seventh (Rowing)
• 2000-08 Rowing National Championships – Gold (Rowing)
• 2003-06 Rowing World Championships – Gold (Rowing)
• 2002 Rowing World Championships – Silver (Rowing mens 1X)
• 2011 Guiness World Record (Rowed and skippered mixed 16X across the Atlantic in 47 days)
• 2010 Guiness World Record (Rowed a women’s 4X Circumnavigation of GB in 51 days)
• 2009 Guiness World Record (Rowed and skippered mixed8X across the Indian ocean in 58 days)
• 2007 Guiness World Record (Rowed mixed 2X across the Atlantic ocean in 67 days)

Watch Angela’s award acceptance video: