Angela Madsen, a three-time Paralympian rower, has died while attempting to row across the Pacific Ocean, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Gary Metzker. She was 60 years old.
Madsen had reportedly been trying to become the first paraplegic, the first openly gay athlete and the oldest woman to row across the Pacific Ocean. She reportedly shipped out on a 20-foot rowboat from Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles in April with the goal of reaching Honolulu in four months.
Madsen’s cause of death remains undisclosed, though the Coast Guard has reportedly recovered her body. She reportedly stopped responding to messages from her wife, Deb, on Sunday.
Soraya Simi, who was making a documentary about Madsen’s solo row, released a statement to the Press-Telegram:
“This is the single heaviest moment of my life,” Simi said in a written statement to the Southern California News Group. “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.”
“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.”
Madsen, a Marine Corps veteran, became a paraplegic in 1980 after a surgery gone wrong. The procedure was meant to treat a spinal injury suffered in a basketball game while stationed at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. The U.S. military refused to pay for her medical bills, leaving her homeless and leading to her marriage falling apart.
Left living out of a storage locker at Disneyland, Madsen’s life turned around when she discovered adaptive sports after a rehabilitation program at the VA Long Beach Healthcare System.
Madsen eventually made the U.S. Paralympic team in 2008 as a rower, then as a track and field athlete in 2012 and 2016. She won the bronze medal in shot put at London in 2012.