IN 2020 Madison Cawthorn became one of the youngest people ever elected to serve in the US Congress at the age of just 25.
The Republican – now 26 – had already faced incredible challenges in his lifetime after he was paralysed in a 2014 car crash.
He was later accused of lying about the circumstances of the crash after claiming he was “left to die” in the horror smash.
Then on Wednesday, Cawthorn announced that he was separating from his wife of less than a year, Cristina Bayardelle.
The rising political star cited “irreconcilable differences” in a statement. He added the pressures of his new job in politics had changed their lives “overnight”.
Here The Sun looks at Cawthorn’s life in the public eye, from announcing his engagement to standing at the Republican National Convention and sharing news of his wedding online.
PARALYSED IN CAR CRASH
Cawthorn was 18 when he was critically injured in 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida, after a car he was riding in struck a concrete pylon.
After the near death experience, Cawthorn said in one interview: “There is no time to wait. Life is precious and it can be taken away at any time.”
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He was riding as a passenger in a BMW X3 SUV when his friend Bradley Ledford fell asleep behind the wheel.
The car crashed into a concrete barrier while Cawthorn’s feet were on the dashboard.
The injuries from the accident left Cawthorn partially paralyzed from the waist down, and he now uses a wheelchair.
ACCUSED OF LYING
In a 2017 speech, Cawthorn said that Ledford left him “to die in a fiery tomb,” however, Ledford publicly disputed this in 2021 saying that he pulled Cawthorn from the wreck once he escaped the car.
In their depositions, Cawthorn stated that he had “no memory from the accident,” while Ledford said that he had helped rescue an unconscious Cawthorn.
In an interview with People, Ledford expanded on what happened immediately after the crash – and how he and Cawthorn have repaired their bond.
“Him and I have been through so much together,” Ledford told the outlet.
Cawthorn suffered “incapacitating” and “life-threatening” injuries, as the vehicle erupted into flames almost immediately after impact.
Ledford said he quickly “recognized that Maddy [Cawthorn] was unconscious and [I] was realizing that the situation was getting worse and worse.”
Ledford explained how he moved toward Cawthorn and felt an intense heat on his right arm, then realized flames were engulfing the back half of the SUV.
He tried to open the driver-side door to escape, but it was jammed. He tried to kick out the windshield, but it wouldn’t budge.
Instead, Ledford said, he reached over Cawthorn and punched out the passenger window.
He climbed out, landed on the concrete and immediately turned around to unbuckle Cawthorn, with whom he pleaded to wake up, he says.
“While I was pulling him out of the window, a bystander came by and helped me carry him away from the car,” Ledford said.
“I remember his leg was pretty badly cut from the accident and we were sitting on the side of the interstate,” Ledford recalled.
“So I took my shirt off and wrapped it around his leg and then just kind of stayed with him until the paramedics got there.”
On election night in November 2020, Cawthorn gathered his family and friends in anticipation of a victory, and joining him was Ledford.
“This is the guy who saved my life,” Cawthorn said of Ledford.
Cawthorn found himself in hot water over an Instagram post celebrating his “bucket list” visit to Adolf Hitler’s HQ.
The visit – in 2017 – was to Hitler’s German vacation house called the “Eagle’s Nest.”
He would later remove the post.
Cawthorn introduced his fiancée to the public in a tweet, describing Bayardelle as an anesthesiologist assistant and a CrossFit athlete.
Bayardelle said that the couple met through a mutual friend and “hit it off,” and after four months “knew he was the one.”
Crawthorn asked cross fit athelete Cristina Bayardelle to marry him in 2019.
“Man, I feel like that diamond was created just for her. So joy filled and in love,” Cawthorn wrote on Instagram.
STANDS AT RNC
Cawthorn delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention in August last year during which he stood up from his wheelchair with the help of a walker.
Cawthorn recounted the moment he was left paralyzed and wheelchair-bound after getting into a car accident in 2014 at just 18 years old.
“At 20, I thought about giving up. However, I knew I could still make a difference. My accident gave me new eyes to see, and new ears to hear,” he said.
“At 20, I made a choice. In 2020, our country has a choice. We can give up on the American idea, or we can work together to make our imperfect union more perfect.”
He continued: “I choose to fight for the future, to seize the high ground and retake the Shining City on a Hill.”
“While the radical left wants to dismantle, defund, and destroy, Republicans, under President Trump’s leadership, want to rebuild, restore and renew.”
Cawthorn closed his speech by urging Americans not to “cower to a mob” and to “kneel before God but stand for our flag.”
He then rose from his wheelchair and stood behind a walker as he said: “Be a radical for liberty and be a radical for our republic for which I stand, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”
Cawthorn was elected to represent a western North Carolina U.S. House district in November last year.
He had first drawn attention after defeating Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in an upset in the June GOP primary runoff.
Cawthorn had worked as a staffer in former White House chief of staff Mark Meadow’s district office from 2015 to 2016.
The couple got hitched in April, sharing pictures of the day online.
After their marriage Cawthorn wrote online: “On April 3rd of 2014 my life changed. A car accident put me in a wheelchair and dashed my hopes for the future.
“On April 3rd of 2021, my life has once again changed.
“Marrying Cristina Bayardelle, now Cristina Cawthorn is the greatest honor, privilege and adventure of my life.”
SPLITS FROM WIFE
In December Cawthorn announced he was divorcing his wife of less than a year and blamed his role in Congress for the split.
He said in a statement that “overnight their lives changed” following his election win.
He added: “When my wife Cristina and I were engaged, I was not a member of Congress.
“I felt called to serve and we both agreed that I should run. Our victory was unprecedented.
“But overnight, our lives changed.
“That change has been both hectic and difficult. It’s neither the pace nor the lifestyle we had planned for.”
He cited “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for their split and added: “While it was an enormously difficult decision, Cristina and I have mutually decided to divorce.
“We ask for privacy as we work through this privately.”