Paralyzed Veterans of America member Angela Madsen will make a 2,300-mile trek in June, but not by plane, car or ship; she will row a solo ocean rowing boat – all in honor of our military, veterans and the fallen.
Starting June 8, 2013, Madsen, a paraplegic from Long Beach, Calif., is preparing to row a solo ocean rowing boat from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Waikiki, Hawaii, without the assistance of a support boat. That means she will stay on her small rowboat for the duration of the 80-to-100-day trip, with only enough provisions to sustain her life for the duration of the journey.
“It’s a lot of work, and it’s not an easy thing to do,” she says. “I’ll get salt water sores, rashes and arthritic pain. But I’ll also see some amazing sunrises and sunsets, and be pushed to my limits.”
The trip will mark Madsen’s fourth rowing challenge across the ocean, but this will be her first time making the trip solo.
Madsen is one of only nine women in the world to have rowed two different oceans, and is the only person in the world who has rowed three ocean crossings and completed the circumnavigation of Great Britain in a rowboat. She also holds six Guinness World Records for ocean rowing.
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 that was further complicated by surgical errors. Months in the hospital caused her to lose her job as a mechanical engineer, leaving her homeless for a time.
She later had a bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer and had to undergo additional surgery for carpal tunnel and ulnar nerve. She also was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, an autoimmune neuromuscular disease characterized by fluctuating weakness in voluntary muscles.
The 2,300-mile journey is a tribute dedicated to veterans of all services, Madsen says. She’s also hoping to raise awareness among the American public of organizations that help veterans, including Paralyzed Veterans of America. Instead of covering the boat with sponsor logos, Madsen is using all of the boat space as a tribute to soldiers.
“I’m trying to raise awareness about the plight of our military and our veterans and what they have to go through,” Madsen says. “I’m trying to affect some sort of positive change and enlighten the American public about what veterans go through.”
Madsen says the total cost of the rowing challenge – namely for the boat, shipping, customs and other fees -- will be roughly $90,000, of which she has raised only about $3,000. “It’s worth doing,” she says. “It’s an amazing thing to do, and I’m blessed to be able to do it.”
Madsen also is hoping to afford some technology that will enable her to document her trip through podcasts, Facebook and her website, RowofLife.com.
The fourth rowing challenge is more than just a tribute to veterans, however; it’s also a platform to advocate for all people with disabilities, Madsen says. She hopes the rowing challenge will serve as an inspiration to people with disabilities to focus on the sentiment that what they can do is more important than what they can’t.
“Everybody wants to say that it gets better,” she says. “But it’s all about the choice you make whether you’re going to move positively forward or stay in the negative. That’s a personal responsibility. Be positive, look forward, and then it gets better.”
To learn more about Angela's challenge, visit www.RowofLife.com.
Read about more Paralyzed Veterans of America members
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.