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Fall 2004 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Legally Blind Musher Withdraws from 2004 Race

By Jon Little

Reprinted with permission from Cabella's website www.cabelasiditarod.com

Abstract: A story about a legally blind woman's attempts to qualify for the Iditarod.

Keywords: Family, blind, deafbind, achromatopsia, Iditarod, blind athletes, accommodations

The Iditarod's record wave of rookies converged on Anchorage Dec. 6 and 7 from Alaska, Canada, the Lower 48 and Europe for a mandatory two-day race orientation, but there was a significant no show.

Rachael Scdoris, a legally blind musher from Bend, Oregon, did not attend the meeting, a move that makes her ineligible to run the 2004 race. The withdrawal is the second from a record field of 109 mushers, 51 of which are rookies. Melanie Shirilla, wife of four-time champion Doug Swingley, would have been a rookie this year but withdrew her entry before the rookie meeting. About 10 to 20 percent of the entrants are historically winnowed out by the March 6 race start.

Rachael Scdoris' father, Jerry, said his daughter's decision to stay home was based chiefly on money, but said it also gives her another year of training and running qualifying races.

Scdoris, 19, originally hoped to have a visual assistant ride along on a snowmobile and alert her via handheld radio when she was about to run into something tricky like an overhanging branch, steep turn or open water. The Iditarod Trail Committee initially rejected that plan, but later offered a compromise: The visual interpreter could be another qualified Iditarod musher traveling by dog team. The pair can use radios.

The need to pay for a second dog team was a budget breaker, at least for 2004, Jerry Scdoris said. "It doubled her budget, and we just don't have the money, but we will next year. And also, she's just going to spend the winter getting qualified. She's got 1,000 miles on her dogs right now and they're looking great. But the proof's in the pudding." She aims to run The Atta Boy 300, a premier stage race managed by Jerry Scdoris, the Seeley Lake 200 in Montana and Montana's Race to the Sky, a 350 miler.

The Scdoris family had planned on Iditarod 2004 costing between $40,000 and $50,000. That was without having to pay for a second team. They assume costs will double with the other dog team.

Scdoris acknowledged that the dollar figures are fairly high. Many mushers can field a team for a fraction of that, especially mushers living within Alaska. But travel and shipping costs spike up for those outside the state, and there are some unique expenses created by Rachael Scdoris' disability, her father said.

For instance, he said, five-time Iditarod finisher Dan MacEachen would be the likely visual interpreter. He's done it before in other races, by snowmobile. But MacEachen runs a profitable sled dog tour business in Aspen, Colo., and Scdoris said he would pay MacEachen's expenses for the time he was away.

Scdoris has congenital achromatopsia, which leaves her with 20/200 vision. She is both near- and far-sighted and color blind. Her vision has been described as like looking through a pair of glasses smeared with grease. Questions have been raised about her ability to care not just for herself on the grueling and challenging Iditarod trail, but also for her dogs during the two-week endurance event.

The Scdorises wanted to get an assistance compromise worked out with the Iditarod beforehand, Jerry Scdoris said, because it was important to know what would be an acceptable qualifier and what wouldn't. The 1,100-mile Iditarod requires mushers to have completed 500 miles of racing within two years of the race start.

Even though Rachael Scdoris is officially withdrawn from the 2004 race, she is just as optimistic as she was before, her father said. "She's got to qualify just like every other person running the race. If she doesn't qualify, it's real simple. She won't run."

Editor's note: Rachael has qualified for the race in March 2005!

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