Paraplegic woman dies at sea while trying to row from California to Hawaii

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Paraplegic woman dies at sea while trying to row from California to Hawaii

By Andrew Chamings

Published

Angela Madsen left Los Angeles in her 20-foot rowboat, Row of Life, in April and had a goal to reach Honolulu in four months. Photo: Instagram / @rowoflife

Photo: Instagram / @rowoflife

Angela Madsen left Los Angeles in her 20-foot rowboat, Row of Life, in April and had a goal to reach Honolulu in four months.

Three-time Paralympian rower, sixty-year-old Angela Madsen, has died at sea while attempting to complete a record breaking voyage from California to Hawaii.

Madsen had been attempting to become the first paraplegic, the first openly gay athlete and the oldest woman to row across the Pacific Ocean.

After a spinal cord injury while in the Marines left Madsen with paraplegia, she went on to win bronze in the shot put at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London.

Madsen left Los Angeles in her 20-foot rowboat, Row of Life, in April and had a goal to reach Honolulu in four months.

A statement from Angela’s partner Debra Madsen on Facebook on Sunday said that her wife was not responding to text messages and a tracker showed her boat was drifting instead of being rowed.

The news was confirmed on Madsen’s Instagram account Monday by Soraya Simi, who was making a documentary about the solo row attempt.

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“Two nights ago Deb, Angela’s partner, texted me that she was worried something had happened to Angela. The last update we received from her was that she was going in the water to fix the anchor on her bow. She was prepping it for a storm due to hit by the end of this week. She’d been texting me jokes and seemed to be in her usual high spirits as she was so close to the halfway point and we had a celebration planned. I checked the GPS and noticed it was weird that her speed was so slow.

“They dispatched an aircraft. It still took all day. We waited as each excruciating hour passed until 11pm, 25 hours after my first call, to learn the news that Angela was, in fact, deceased. Her body was floating next to her boat, still tethered.” Simi wrote.

View this post on Instagram

This is extremely hard to read and harder to write so please prepare yourself: As of 11pm last night, Angela was declared deceased at sea. Two nights ago Deb, Angela’s partner, texted me that she was worried something had happened to Angela. The last update we received from her was that she was going in the water to fix the anchor on her bow. She was prepping it for a storm due to hit by the end of this week. She’d been texting me jokes and seemed to be in her usual high spirits as she was so close to the halfway point and we had a celebration planned. I checked the GPS and noticed it was weird that her speed was so slow and consistently so. Angela also hadn’t responded to any of our messages for a whole day which was highly unusual. I felt uneasy and told Deb I was calling the Coast Guard. They said they would dispatch a ship in the morning. Angela was over 1,000 miles from land in any direction, so it would take a while to get to her. I told them she might be injured. They dispatched an aircraft. It still took all day. We waited as each excruciating hour passed until 11pm, 25 hours after my first call, to learn the news that Angela was, in fact, deceased. Her body was floating next to her boat, still tethered. This is the single heaviest moment of my life. I am so sorry and so sad to write this. I know so many of you were cheering her on and wanted her to succeed. We are devastated. This was a clear risk going in since day one, and Angela was aware of that more than anyone else. She was willing to die at sea doing the thing she loved most. She was a hell of a woman and one of the most influential and inspiring people in my life. I hope to live with a fraction of the fierceness of spirit Angela had. I can’t believe she’s gone. Life is so brief and fragile. We must fill it with love. Both Deb and I ask that you respect our space while we process this and navigate moving forward. Please be patient and kind as we compile information to share all at once. Thank you, Soraya

A post shared by Angela Madsen (@rowoflife) on

“Angela was living her dream. She loved being on the water,” Angela’s partner Debra said in a statement.

Andrew Chamings is a digital editor at SFGATE. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @AndrewChamings