The partner took her car, her disability checks and her savings, Ms. Madsen wrote. With no money for rent, she was evicted. She stored a few possessions in a locker at Disneyland and lived on the streets with her dog for a couple of months, until she was helped by the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“When I celebrated my 34th birthday on May 10, I found myself wishing I had never been born,” she wrote. “My weight had ballooned up to 350 pounds, which made me feel more immobile than ever.”
Then came an accident in the San Francisco subway in which she plunged headfirst from her wheelchair onto the train tracks. It left her with a mild brain injury but led her to realize that she had more to be grateful for than sorry about, and she resolved to shape her own destiny.
“I stopped being a victim and started taking responsibility to retrain, re-parent or reprogram myself,” she told Trekity, an online travel newsletter for women.
“It does not mean that bad things no longer happen to me or that I am not victimized by people or that my life is easy,” she added. “I just improved my coping skills and took myself to another level.”
Always athletic, she turned to competitive sports. She got involved with the Veterans Wheelchair Games, and in 1995 won three gold medals: in swimming, the wheelchair slalom course and billiards.
By 1998 she had discovered adaptive rowing for athletes with physical disabilities, and by 1999 she had joined her first ocean rowing regatta.