Paralympian Angela Madsen dies trying to row from LA to Hawaii

Madsen already held six Guinness World Records and had been aiming to set another as the first paraplegic and oldest woman to row across the Pacific solo at the time of her death.
Orange County Register Archive
Madsen in 2010 poses with her row boat at her home in Long Beach, California.Jeff Gritchen / Orange County Register via Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Samantha Kubota

Paralympic medalist Angela Madsen died trying to row by herself across the Pacific Ocean.

Madsen was 60 years old. Her wife, Debra, confirmed the news in a Facebook post, writing she lost contact with Madsen on Sunday.

“When I looked at the tracking, it did not appear that she was rowing the boat, but rather that it was drifting,” she said, adding she knew Madsen planned to get in the water to fix an issue with the boat.

“I was concerned when she did not text when she got back on the boat,” Debra said. “She was about as far from any land as she could get and the communication can be a challenge, I was hopeful but still had a feeling of heaviness in my chest.”

She said Soraya Simi, the filmmaker documenting Madsen’s trip, contacted the U.S. Coast Guard and they diverted a cargo ship toward the boat's location and sent a plane to fly over the area.

“The plane saw Angela in the water, apparently deceased, tethered to RowofLife (the boat) but was unable to relay that information due to poor satellite coverage,” Debra said in her post. When the cargo ship arrived Monday night, they found and recovered Madsen’s body.

“Angela was living her dream,” Debra said in her post. “She loved being on the water, as you could see from the photos she sent.

“I am sad but ok. I never planned a life without her so be patient with me while I figure all this out.”

Simi confirmed the news on her Instagram as well, adding Madsen would have wanted her to go on making the film about her journey — even with its tragic end.

"This was a clear risk going in since day one, and Angela was aware of that more than anyone else,” Simi said. “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.”

Simi said she will fly to Hawaii later this week and try to recover Madsen’s boat along with the cameras and footage on board.

“I remember once I asked Angela what she does on bad days. She said row harder,” Simi wrote in a post. “That has stuck with me since. It is Deb’s and Angela’s wish that I complete this film. Carrying someone’s story is a heavy responsibility, one my crew and I signed up for, and one we will see through.”

Simi said Debra is trying to arrange for Madsen’s body to be returned to Los Angeles from Tahiti, where the cargo ship that recovered her body is heading.

Madsen led a storied and interesting life before her death. On her website, she explained she sustained a serious back injury while in the military in her early 20s. The surgery she had to correct it went wrong, and she woke up 10 hours later a paraplegic.

Madsen, then 36, and Franck Festor, then 35, as they row across the Atlantic Ocean on Nov. 30, 2007.Pool DEMANGE/DI SILVESTRO / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

She went on to compete for Team USA in both rowing and track and field.

By the end of her life, Madsen had successfully rowed across the Pacific Ocean with another person, circumnavigated Great Britain and crossed the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

Madsen was also an advocate for the LGBTQ community and veterans, an obituary on the U.S. Rowing website noted.

Simi said she is looking to her late friend for inspiration going forward.

“I hope to live with a fraction of the fierceness of spirit Angela had,” Simi wrote. “I can't believe she's gone. Life is so brief and fragile. We must fill it with love."