Iditarod schedules special meeting to decide on blind musher

Posted: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Board members of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race will hold a special meeting in September to try to resolve the issue over a legally blind Oregon teenager seeking special accommodations to run the 2004 race.

It is unclear yet whether 18-year-old Rachael Scdoris herself will attend the session, ''but I think there will be some representation (for her),'' said Rick Koch, Iditarod board chairman.

Scdoris, of Redmond, Ore., has congenital achromatopsia, a retinal condition that impairs her central visual acuity. Scdoris wants the board to approve a plan that would allow two snowmachiners in front and behind her team throughout the race. These so-called visual interpreters would advise her of trail conditions only at the point where a sighted musher could observe the same conditions, the plan said.

Iditarod board members voted on June 6 to postpone a decision to accommodate disabled mushers on an individual basis. They never considered the proposal submitted by Rachael, and her father, Jerry, who operate Oregon Trail of Dreams Sled Dog Rides, a commercial dog sled tour operation out of Mount Bachelor, Ore.

The elder Scdoris also is the organizer of the Attaboy 300, an Oregon stage stop sled dog race in which Rachael has competed, using trail interpreters.

Neither Rachael or her father would comment, instead referring questions to Rachael's agent, Paul Herschell, of Sports Unlimited in Portland, Ore.

''We hope the board will work with us,'' Herschell said. ''We want to work together to find a win-win solution to allow Rachael to run.''

Iditarod veterans, for the most part, have said they don't want special accommodations for anyone.

Five-time Iditarod champion Rick Swenson, an Iditarod board member from Two Rivers, is adamantly opposed to any special conditions for Scdoris. ''She can sign up under the same rules as the rest of us,'' Swenson said at the last board meeting. ''If you start making accommodations for individuals, where are you going to draw the line?''

But another Iditarod veteran, Dan MacEachen, of Snowmass Village, Colo., supports the teen musher.

''If you were to put on glasses and smear some Vasoline on them, that would give you an idea of her vision,'' said MacEachen, who would be riding one of the snowmachines. ''It's not that she wants it. She absolutely has to have it.''

Meanwhile, the blonde, blue-eyed teenager has paid her entry fee for Iditarod 2004. She is one of 77 entrants, including 27 rookies, signed up for the last great race, which starts March 6 at Anchorage.

She has also signed up for the Seney 300 training run, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, an event that allows trail interpreters. The Seney also is an Iditarod qualifying event, but only as long as entrants follow Iditarod rules.

''With Rachael not meeting the Iditarod rules verbatim, we cannot tell her she is qualified for the Iditarod,'' Seney 300 race director Lloyd Gilbertson, another Iditarod veteran. ''We can just evaluate her with the use of visual interpreters and say how her skills are in each area.''

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