Iditarod board's decision shows heart, guts of race

Posted: Wednesday, October 01, 2003

She's got guts, no mistake there.

Rachael Scdoris, 18, got the go-ahead from Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race directors last week, after she made her case for a second time.

The legally blind musher's first request to run the race with snowmachine guides using two-way radios was denied by the Iditarod. Last week, she made another request to run the race and officials signed off on a plan, in a unanimous vote, that will have her on the trail with a fellow musher, who will be her eyes, with a two-way radio.

The fact that the 18-year-old Oregon musher just a kid compared to most with Iditarod-caliber experience asked to run the race with assistance gave Iditarod officials pause. And who can blame them? This vote reportedly came at the end of an emotional six-hour meeting.

Good for the board and good for her.

A race like the Iditarod or Yukon Quest is something no musher should enter lightly, and this was no easy decision for any involved. Even though Scdoris apparently is an athletic and relatively accomplished musher, this is breaking new ground for the Iditarod and for other mushing events throughout the state. The races do not allow assistance on the trail, two-way radios or use of snowmachines.

Some approached the issue waving the Americans with Disabilities Act and that might have given cause for some Alaskans to bristle. Similarities between Scdoris' request for assistance on the trail and golfer Casey Martin's need to use a golf cart on the PGA tour are questionable.

But Scdoris said she had no interest in bringing in lawyers, and the race officials said they did not make this decision based on possible legal hurdles. If that is indeed the case, then that is best for everyone.

Good for the board and good for her.

Making her Iditarod run possible will be fellow musher Dan MacEachon, 55, of Colorado and a veteran of the Iditarod although his last run was 10 years ago. It's hard not to admire the commitment this man is making to his friend. He will not only have to train his team to run the race, since he, too, will be running the route, and look out for himself on the trail, but he will serve as Scdoris' eyes as well.

He will have his work cut out for him, and Scdoris has her work cut out for her. One could argue that having two teams and a guide offers an advantage, but one could also argue that the need to care for twice as many dogs doubles the chances for failure.

The rookie is confident she can care for herself and her dogs on the trail. She just needs some help in the vision department. She will run qualifying races and, given the obstacles she must train to overcome, likely will be as prepared possibly more so than some others in the field of more than 80 who plan to hit the trail next March. ''Vision'' is a word with more than one meaning.

Her attempt could end in triumph, a scratch or in disaster, but no musher can enter a long-distance mushing race ignoring that broad range of possibilities.

The spirit of the race and the spirit of Alaska is seizing the opportunity, preparing and trying your best. Alaskans should certainly wish Scdoris and MacEachon the best in this endeavor.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Sept. 22

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