Angela Madsen (born May 10, 1960) is an American Paralympian sportswoman, in both rowing and track and field. In a long career, Madsen has moved from race rowing, to ocean challenges before switching in 2011 to athletics, winning a bronze medal in the shot put at the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London. Madsen, along with team-mate Helen Taylor, is the first woman to have rowed across the Indian Ocean.
Madsen was born in the United States in 1960. Educated at Fairborn Baker High School in Fairborn, Ohio, she became a single parent at the age of seventeen, which severely impeded her chance for an athletics scholarship.
Most of Madsen's immediate family were military, so when her brothers told her she "couldn't make it as a marine", it made her determined to join. She enlisted in the Marines, leaving her daughter with her parents until she completed basic training. After passing training, the Marine Corps provided Madsen with a home for her and her daughter. She was sent to Fort McClellan in Alabama to train as a military police officer and her first duty station was at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, near Irvine, California. At El Toro, she joined the women's basketball team, at center, and when the team competed at the Marine Corps West Coast Regional Basketball Tournament, Madsen was scouted by the women’s Marine Corps team.
In 1980, at her first Marine Corps training session, she fell on the court and another player stepped on her back, rupturing two discs in her spine. This in turn led Madsen to undergo surgery to her back, but a string of errors resulted in her suffering a L1 incomplete spinal cord injury and paraplegia.
The US Military refused to pay for Madsen's medical bills following the accident and in the dispute that followed Madsen lost her home and her marriage fell apart. She fell into depression and ended up homeless, living out of a storage locker in Disneyland.
Madsen's life turned around when, after attending a National Veterans Games, she was introduced to wheelchair basketball. She took up the sport and slowly began to rebuild her life. But the defining point in her recovery came after she fell onto subway tracks in San Francisco, and feared that she had broken her neck. This event made her reassess her life as a disabled person, and she decided to live her life to the full. She wrote an autobiography, published in 2014, titled Rowing Against the Wind.
Madsen was introduced to rowing after her wheelchair basketball sponsor invited her to a Learn-to-Row event in Dana Point. She found she was a natural at the sport and enjoyed the fact that she did not need to use a wheelchair to participate. In 2002, the International Rowing Federation added adaptive rowing to the World Rowing Championships, and Madsen, classified as a TA (trunk and arms) competitor was selected to race at the 2002 World Rowing Championships. She finished in silver place in the single sculls. Over the next three years she entered each of the World Championships, winning the gold medal in the doubles sculls in every tournament.
Whilst a competitive rower, Madsen was also enjoying ocean rowing events, and from her home in California she had perfect access to the Pacific. She began rowing between Newport, California and Dana Point, and began entering 20-mile races. After Madsen met Louisville Adaptive Rowing Program volunteer Tori Murden, who was the first American to row the Atlantic solo, she became inspired to undertake an ocean journey. Over the following years Madsen took on multiple ocean treks. In 2007 she became the first woman with a disability to row across the Atlantic Ocean. Two years later she became, along with Helen Taylor, one of the first two women to row across the Indian Ocean. Madsen was also part of a team that circumnavigated the coast of Great Britain.
In 2008, Madsen represented the United States at her first Summer Paralympics competing at the 2008 Games in Beijing in the mixed double sculls with William Brown, though they did not progress through the repechage finishing seventh.
Madsen made her first appearance for the United States as a F56 classification track and field athlete in 2011. Her results leading up to the games saw her qualify for the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, competing in the shot put (F54-56) and javelin throw (F54/55/56). She finished fifth in the javelin, but a throw of 8.88 metres was enough to win her a bronze medal in the shot put. She also competed for the United States at the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, and in 2016, at the Boiling Point Track Classic, held at the University of Windsor in Canada, Madsen won her shot put event with a distance of 9.43, setting a new world record. July 2016 also saw Madsen announced as a member of the US team to compete at Rio in the 2016 Summer Paralympics, where she finished eighth in the Women's shot put F56/57, and seventh in the Women's javelin throw F55/F56.
In November 2014, Madsen received the Athletes in Excellence Award from The Foundation for Global Sports Development, in recognition of her community service efforts and work with youth.
Madsen came out as gay in 1981, whilst still in the US Military. She met her wife, Debra, in 2006.