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Blind, Female Musher Defies the Odds - The Rachael Scdoris Story
Racing in the Iditarod
The History of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race
For the first time in history, Rachael Scdoris courageously raced across Alaska's wilderness to become the first legally blind musher to cross the Iditarod's finish line. For those of you unfamilar with the Iditarod, it is also called The Last Great Race.
In Alaska's early history, dog teams were used for winter transportation. When gold was discovered in the Interior of Alaska, since there were no roads or planes, miners used dogteams to get to the isolated gold camps. After the goldmine communites were established, the U.S. Postal Service used sled dog teams to deliver the mail. This thoroughfare through Alaska's wilderness is now the famous Iditarod trail. However, with the advent of planes and snow mobiles, most Alaskans no longer used dog teams. In fact, by the 1960s, some Alaskans no longer knew what the Iditarod trail was or the importance of dog teams in Alaska's history.
Fearing mushing would become a lost part of Alaska history and a forgotten skill, Dorothy Page, a self-made historian was the inspiration behind today's Iditarod dlog sled race. Encouraging Joe Redington, Sr., ta musher in Wasilla, to organize a race to commemorate the Iditarod, in 1973, the Iditarod sled dog race was born. However, the story does not end there. The Iditarod also honors the brave mushers who tirelessy raced across Alaska's snow-swept wilderness in the winter of 1925 to deliever the precious anti-serum to Nome during a diptherea epidemic.
Today the Iditarod is a 1,150 mile race that spans across Alaska from Anchorage to Nome. Not for the weak, it takes courage and determination to traverses through the frozen rivers, tangled forests, mountain ranges, and other dangers of the Alaska wilderness.
Since 1973, there has been a race every year.
Iditarod Trail Map
A Short Biography on Rachael Scdoris
One example of these courageous and determined mushers is Rachael Scdoris. With beautiful, long hair and a friend-winning smile, Racheal Scdoris looks like any other healthy, young woman except she has Congenital Achromatopsia. Consequently, Rachael has never seen color. Furthermore, she is completely colorblnd and her vision is only 20/200. Don't underestimate her though; at her age, she has accomplished more than some do in a lifetime.
Congenital Achromatopsia is an extremely rare hereditary disorder in which the retinal cone cells do not function properly. It causes complete colorblindness and poor visual accuity. It may also be accompanied by blurred vision, involuntary eye movements, and light sensitivity that can cause discomfort and pain.
Rachael lives in Bend, Oregon. Since the age of three, Rachael has been behind a sled, and consequently, mushing is her life's passion. In an interview with ABC News, Rachael said there is nothing she likes better in life than racing her dog team. Racing sled dogs since the age of eleven, competing in the Iditarod was one of her first and foremost dreams. Determined to rise above her disability, in 1997, she competed in her first sled dog race, the Frog Drop Race, and placed fourth. After winning a few more local short-distance races, in 2001, at the age of 15, she was the youngest musher to complete the 500-mile Pedigree International Stage Stop Race in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After completing those two races, the Iditarod was next in line.
When Rachael's dad first paid the Iditarod's entry fee, she didn't ask for any special accommodations. Even though Rachael's father had enough faith in her to pay the fee, the Iditarod's organizer didn't want to accept her. Supposedly, he said she would be a distraction, in the way, and a liability. At that time, they told the Scdoris that the only way she would be able to compete was to race with her father. However, the extra weight of another person on the sled would be unfair to her and the dogs. In an effort to compromise, Rachael's father suggested they use a visual guide on a snow machine, but the Iditarod rejected that idea.
After public controversy surrounding the problem, in 2003, the Iditarod Trail Committee unanimously approved Rachael. They agreed she could compete in the race with the assistance of a visual guide running behind her on a dog team with a two-way radio. Previoulsy, Rachael didn't use any visual guides.
However, she decided not to run the 2004 Iditarod for a couple of reasons. First, the use of dog team instead of a snow mobile for the visual assistant doubled the initial budget of 40 to 50 thousand. Furthermore, since her assistant would be using a sled rather than a snow mobile, a snow mobile manufacturer backed out of sponsoring her. Secondly, she needed more time to get accustomed to using a visual guide on a snow machine.
After successfully completing the 400-mile Beargrease Marathon in sixth place and the 350-mile Race to the Sky in eleventh, in 2004, Rachael qualified for the Iditarod. in 2005, Rachael was the first visually impaired athlete to compete in the Iditarod. However, through no fault of her own, after reaching the Eagle Island checkpoint, Rachael had to scratch since her dog team was showing signs of sickness after apparently contracting a virus on the trail.
Not a quitter, Rachael entered the 2006 Iditarod. After a grueling 12 day, 10 hour, and 42 minute odyssey, she became the first legally blind athlete to cross the finish line, placing 57 out of 72 mushers that crossed the finished line.
Since the first Iditarod she completed, Rachael has ran the race 2 more times and crossed the finish line one more time. in 2008, she scratched after getting up to 62 out of 95 mushers. In 2009, she placed 45.
Life hasn't always been easy for Rachael. During her school days, many of her peers teased her. Even as a young adult, although she hasn't let her disability stand in her way, others have tried to squash her dreams because of it. However, her indomitable spirit has always led her to try to her best regardless of the odds. An inspiration to all, she is a trailblazer in more than one way.