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Ex-Marine Angela Madsen on her journey from homelessness to the Paralympics

Retired U.S. Marine Angela Madsen once lived out of a locker at Disneyland. But the 52-year-old paraplegic turned her life around and has since rowed across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. She's now competing for Team USA at the Paralympic Games in London.

LONDON -- Angela Madsen's journey to the London 2012 Paralympics is nothing short of extraordinary.

Complications following a back injury she sustained while serving in Marine Corps at the age of 20 led to her becoming a paraplegic when she was in her 30s.

Bound to a wheelchair, she fell into a deep depression. She lost her job. Her marriage dissolved.


"I lost my house ... I ended up homeless, kept my things in a locker at Disneyland. Happiest place on earth, right?" she told NBC News at the USA track-and-field training camp at RAF Lakenheath, near Cambridge, England, last week.

But the native Californian missed surfing, so she set out to find a way back to the water, determined to turn her life around.

Some of the hottest tickets at the London Paralympics are for wheelchair rugby. The sport is so violent and fierce, that it has been dubbed "Murderball."

"I started taking responsibility … and started making the changes and decisions to move positively forward in my life,” she said.

Now, her definition of a disabled person is "somebody who doesn't believe they can and doesn't try.”

'Meet the Superhumans': Paralympians burst onto world stage

She competed in the 2006 world surfing championships and then fell in love with rowing.

She turned this hobby into history by rowing across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Ahead of the London Paralympics, L.A. Galaxy midfielder David Beckham spent a day learning blind soccer from Team Great Britain.

"I didn't row across my first ocean until I was 47,” she said with a laugh.

"I have six Guinness World Records for rowing oceans. I've circumnavigated Great Britain ... I've been places on this planet that no human being has ever been before. A thousand miles from land in any direction ... it's been a pretty amazing life."

Read Angela Madsen's profile at the Paralympic Games' website

Next year, she plans to row solo across the Pacific Ocean.

Madsen rowed for Team USA in the Beijing Paralympic Games, narrowly missing the podium. "I missed the medal rounds by 7-hundredths of a second.”

Centra "Ce-Ce" Mazyck, who was paralyzed during a parachute jump with the 82nd Airborne in November 2003, will compete in the javelin at the London Paralympics.

In the London 2012 Paralympic Games, the 52-year-old is trying her hand at track and field events, competing in the women's shot put and javelin.

"I don’t have any regrets about anything. If I could go back and change anything I wouldn't, except for the amount of pain I have with the rods in my back,” Madsen said. “That could definitely go. But I can’t foresee change in anything. I'm very, very satisfied with the life that I have now."

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