Born on Apr. 1, 1973 and raised in Castro Valley, CA, Maddow was a precocious child who began reading the newspaper cover-to-cover, and asking pointed questions while only in the second grade. While attending Castro Valley High School, she was a three-sport athlete, participating in volleyball, swimming and basketball. But when she suffered a shoulder injury playing volleyball her senior year, Maddow's days as an athlete were over. With more free time on her hands, she began working at an AIDS clinic in nearby West Oakland - a job she kept secret from her more conservative parents, who were then just learning that their daughter was gay. After graduating high school, she attended Stanford University and earned her Bachelor's in public policy in less than four years. She graduated in 1994, then went to San Francisco, where she began working as an activist for ACT-UP, focusing on making sure HIV-positive inmates received medication. In 1995, she received a Rhodes Scholarship - the first openly gay American to win - which she used to earn her Doctorate in Political Science from Lincoln College, Oxford University.Upon her return from Oxford, Maddow settled in Massachusetts, where she supported herself working odd jobs - one of which led to her meeting future partner, artist Susan Mikula. In 1999, she attended an open casting call for a disc jockey position at a local radio show in Amherst. Despite never having been on the radio, Maddow scored a co-hosting gig on "The Dave in the Morning" show on WRNX. She later moved over to WRSI in Northhampton, where she hosted "Big Breakfast" for two years. In 2004, she heard about a new liberal radio network, Air America, and had a friend slip an audition tape to one of the producers. Maddow made her Air America debut alongside Lizz Winstead, co-creator of "The Daily Show" (Comedy Central, 1996- ), and rapper Chuck D on the morning show, "Unfiltered." But in early 2005, the show was canceled and replaced with Jerry Springer. Just two weeks later, however, Maddow was given the opportunity to host her own program, "The Rachel Maddow Show," which initially aired in the 5-6 a.m. slot. Despite several time changes, her show gained a loyal progressive audience and eventually expanded to three hours, becoming one of Air America's top-rated shows.Once she had made a name for herself on nationally syndicated radio, Maddow made the jump to cable news, becoming a regular contributor on "The Situation with Tucker Carlson" (MSNBC, 2005-08). During the November 2006 elections, she was a frequent guest on the "Paula Zahn Now" (CNN, 2003-07). In January 2008, Maddow signed an exclusive contract with MSNBC and began appearing regularly on "Race for the White House with David Gregory" (MSNBC, 2008- ), while participating in panel discussions for the network's coverage of the presidential primaries and general election. It was during their presidential coverage that she developed an adversarial, but friendly relationship with Pat Buchanan, a staunch conservative who horrified Maddow to tears in 1992 when he declared a culture war against gays in his keynote address at the Republican National Convention. Despite their ideological differences, Maddow and Buchanan displayed a true affection and respect for one another onscreen.Meanwhile, Maddow successfully served as substitute host for "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" (MSNBC, 2003- ) for a couple of episodes, which led to her covering for a vacationing Olbermann for eight shows in July 2008. A month later, the cable network announced that she was being given her own program, "The Rachel Maddow Show" (MSNBC, 2008- ), which replaced "The Verdict with Dan Abrams" (MSNBC, 2007-08). Maddow's show featured intelligent and informative one-on-one interviews with guests on political and social issues of the day - a rarity in a cable universe dominated by numerous talking heads shouting over one another. Right from the start, her show was a hit and even pulled ahead of cable perennial Larry King in the ratings. Though Maddow continued with Air America, her program was cut to two hours to make room for her new cable duties.