Blind musher wants Iditarod rules changed

Posted: Friday, September 19, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A legally blind teenager from Redmond, Ore., hopes to persuade board members for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race to make special accommodations so she can compete next year.

Rachael Scdoris, 18, was scheduled to speak to the board at a meeting Friday.

She has congenital achromatopsia, a retinal condition that impairs her ability to see clearly. Scdoris wants the board to approve a plan that would allow two people to ride on snowmobiles in front of her team and behind it, and communicate with two-way radios, advising her of trail conditions.

Current race rules allow competitors to receive assistance only from competing mushers in an emergency. Mushers also are restricted to traditional forms of navigation, including maps and magnetic compasses.

Verbal coaching from non-competitors and use of radios and other communications equipment is forbidden, as is pacing dogs behind snowmobiles.

''We are focusing on a positive decision on Friday,'' said Paul Herschell, her agent in Portland, Ore. ''Obviously there are legal options available, but we have not discussed them.''

Scdoris plans to spend time in Alaska this winter, working with Iditarod veteran Dan MacEachen, to prepare herself physically for the race, Herschell said.

MacEachen, of Snowmass, Colo., a veteran of six Iditarod races, is prepared to be one of her visual interpreters for the race.

''This lady is legally blind,'' MacEachen said. ''She would much rather prefer not having us out there. There is a psychological advantage to having an interpreter out there. It's not that she wants it. She absolutely has to have it.''

Many Iditarod veterans expressed concern over the safety of Scdoris and her team, should she be allowed to compete.

''It's an unsafe endeavor for the dogs who are driven by a driver who can't see,'' said four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser, of Big Lake. ''It's unfortunate, but certain things we just can't do.

''I think it is an endeavor that she should refrain from, just for the safety of the dogs.''

Lynda Plettner, another Iditarod veteran from the Big Lake area, said what Scdoris should be doing is the serum run, a dog mushing adventure from Nenana to Nome, which follows the Iditarod.

''The serum run is designed to do a big dog mushing event, with all the help that you want,'' she said.

Five-time champion Rick Swenson, an Iditarod board member from Two Rivers, has opposed special allowances for Scdoris.

''She can sign up under the same rules as the rest of us,'' said Swenson, at the last board meeting in June. ''If you start making accommodations for individuals, where are you going to draw the line?''

Scdoris, whose father, Jerry, operates a commercial dog sled tour out of Mount Bachelor, Ore., has paid the entry fee for Iditarod 2004. She is one of 81 entrants to date, including 29 rookies, signed up to start the race in Anchorage on March 6.

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