At approximately 9,600 miles, the Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of the world’s five oceans. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Antarctic Ocean in the south and is bounded by the continents of Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.
And by July — if all goes well — Long Beach’s Angela Madsen will have rowed more than 25% of the Pacific.
Two thousand, five hundred miles.
Madsen, a three-time Paralympian and Marine veteran, is aiming to set a world record as the first paraplegic, first openly-gay athlete, and oldest woman to row across the Pacific Ocean.
“The idea is to have the boat completely ready and loaded April 1,” Madsen said last week. “I’m waiting for easterly winds. It’s all based on the winds and speed. Having a Santa Ana condition would be nice, too.”
Madsen, 59, will be leaving from Marina del Rey with a goal of reaching the Hawaii Yacht Club in Honolulu and the official finish line — the Diamondhead Lighthouse — sometime in the next four months.
She said the reason for the Marina del Rey starting point is because Long Beach is not the best place to launch. “The winds and currents are more challenging,” Madsen said. “It hard to get out past Catalina from Long Beach, but once I’m past Catalina, which will take me eight hours anyway, it gets better; I don’t have to worry about land anymore.”
There will be no boats following her for support. The lifelong athlete will carry all her own food and use a desalinator to make fresh water.
Madsen’s 20-foot rowboat, the Row of Life, is 6 feet wide. It has a hatch that contains a bed and room for supplies. She said it weighs about 750-800 pounds unladen, but once all the food and supplies are loaded, it will weigh about 1,250 pounds. The boat is blue with a red hull. “I wanted it to be visible from the air should I tip over,” she said with a laugh. But another reason for the red hull is because the last time she completed the trip with fellow distance rower Tara Remington, the hull was white and a few aggressive Orcas kept bumping the boat.
That effort, in 2014, was historic as it made her the first paraplegic to row from California to Hawaii.
Madsen's story has been well-chronicled.
In 1993, she was left paralyzed after a number of errors during surgery stemming from an injury suffered playing basketball while based at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. According to an NBC News report in 2012, the U.S. military refused to pay for Madsen's medical bills following the accident. Not only did she lose the use of her legs, she lost her home and marriage. At one point, she was homeless and lived out of a storage locker at Disneyland.
“When I got injured, I thought everything was gone and I lost all hope,” she told Outsports.com.
After going through a rehabilitation program at the VA Hospital in Long Beach, Madsen turned to adaptive sports. She started rowing in 1997 and was so motivated that one year later, she initiated an adaptive rowing program at the Pete Archer Rowing Center at Marine Stadium.
“I wanted to create an opportunity for people with disabilities to row,” she said. “It’s one of the most inclusive activities people can do. We row three days a week and do it year-round. It’s completely free for people with disabilities.”
But rowing wasn’t enough for this ultra-competitive athlete. She was a participant in the Paralympics three times and won a bronze medal in both rowing and shot put.
She was the first woman with a disability to twice row across the Atlantic Ocean. In 2009, she and teammate Helen Taylor became the first women to row across the Indian Ocean. In 2010, she was part of a team that circumnavigated Great Britain. Madsen is mentioned six times in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Madsen has also been a voice for disability rights and an LGBTQ activist. In 2015, she was a grand marshal of the 2015 Long Beach Pride Parade.
This trip to Hawaii is also being documented as video cameras will be on board as part of a project by filmmaker Soraya Simi, who is working on a feature on Madsen’s life for release later this year.
“Angela found me from a sailing documentary called ’Where the Water Takes Us' that I made last year,” Simi said. “She reached out asking if I was interested in doing a ‘little video project’ on her row. That was six months ago and it has developed into quite the undertaking since.”
In order for Madsen to reach Hawaii by July, she will have to row at least 12 hours every day. Day 1 will be quite the undertaking because she plans to row 24 hours straight until she is well past Catalina.
“I will be consuming about 4,000 to 5,000 calories per day,” she said, “but I will have about 120 days of dehydrated foods and provisions; about 10 percent are MREs (meals ready to eat),” she said. “I will have texting capability and satellite tracking so people will be able to follow online. I have everything I need.”
Madsen’s 60th birthday is on May 10. She isn’t sure where she will be, but she has her birthday celebration already packed and ready to go: “It’s a moon pie with a Samoa Girl Scout cookie with a candle.”
All the planning is done. All the training is done. Madsen says she is well aware of almost all the pitfalls that can happen. But there was one thing she couldn’t have planned for.
“The only thing new is coronavirus,” she said. “I’m avoiding everybody. Being in a wheelchair, I’m in a vulnerable situation. I think a solo row across the ocean will be safer than a trip to the grocery store. At least I’ll be safe at sea for three months. It will give people something else to do and think about. They can send me a message of encouragement.”
Roz Savage holds the record for fastest woman to row from California to Hawaii at 100 days. But Savage left from San Francisco and her trip was 200 miles shorter. That doesn’t faze Madsen.
“I’m going to be the first paraplegic and the oldest woman to row across the Pacific. I’m really competitive,” she said. “I know I can beat that record.”