By Gary Metzker,
An effort is underway to help bring Paralympian and long-distance rower Angela Madsen’s body back to Long Beach from Tahiti — as tributes continue to come in days after her death.
Madsen, a three-time Paralympian and U.S. Marine veteran, died at sea earlier this week, halfway through her attempt to become the first openly gay athlete and oldest woman to row alone across the Pacific Ocean. Madsen, a Long Beach resident who set out on her journey to Hawaii from Marina del Rey in April, was reportedly found tethered to her boat Monday, June 22, after getting in the water to make repairs.
James Brown, who knew Madsen and is with the nonprofit Wine Country Marines veterans group, based in Gilroy, had already raised about $20,300 of the $50,000 GoFundMe goal as of Thursday evening, June 25. The money will be used for travel expenses and final arrangements. Madsen’s remains are on the German cargo ship Polynesia, which is currently sailing toward Tahiti.
Brown, during a Wednesday phone interview, said that Madsen’s wife, Deb Madsen, asked him to put the online fundraiser together. Brown and Angela Madsen met about eight years ago, he said, and worked together on the Valor Games, an event for veterans with disabilities.
“I knew that Angela was quite the daredevil, so there is that inherent risk,” Brown said, adding that he learned of Madsen’s death in a Tuesday text message from her wife. “But nobody thought this would happen. Angela was a force of nature.”
Brown was far from the only one to pay tribute to Madsen.
Jack Nunn, a long-distance swimmer who was selected as the 2019 Long Beach Aquatic Capital of America athlete of the year, compared Madsen to Joan Van Blom, the two-time Olympic silver medalist rower who also hailed from Long Beach. Van Blom died from cancer in 2015.
“I’m pretty devastated,” said Nunn, a family friend of hers for years. “Angela was just the epitome of inspiration and not giving up.
“Her story should be more well-known,” Nunn added. “There was nothing she couldn’t do.”
Madsen competed with the U.S. squad in the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, where she finished seventh in the trunk and arms mixed double sculls with partner Scott Brown. Madsen won four gold medals and one silver medal at the world championships during her national team career.
“Angela was really stubborn and would not take no for an answer, whether that was raising funds for adaptive rowing, advocating for veterans, or even trying to get her to change her rowing stroke,” Brown told the US Rowing website. “But that stubbornness, combined with her intense love of rowing, translated into so many great things that she was able to share with us along the way. Angela was happiest out on that wide-open ocean she loved.”
Soraya Simi, who was documenting the ocean crossing for a film, posted on her Facebook page that she will fly to Hawaii on Friday, June 26.
“The count resets. Now we navigate moving forward without Angela,” Simi wrote. “She brought us halfway. Time for us to pick up where she left off.”
Simi said she is not sure if she will be allowed to board a vessel heading close to where Madsen’s rowboat, named the Row of Life, is drifting to retrieve the cameras and footage. Hawaii’s governor has mandated that visitors from the mainland have to stay in a 14-day quarantine when they arrive; she may have to wait for the boat to come back to Hawaii in a month.
“I remember once I asked Angela what she does on bad days,” Simi wrote. “She said ‘row harder.’ 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.”
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