Photo provided by Becki Timson Rachael Scdoris, who is legally blind, coming into the finish chute of the 2004 Atta Boy 300 in Bend, Ore., in January.
Photo provided by Becki Timson
Being legally blind hasn't stopped Rachael Scdoris, a musher from Bend, Ore., from setting her sights on the 2005 Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race.
"I'm looking forward to the challenge," said the 20-year-old musher. "I can't wait to get the experience under my belt, and I think it will give me a taste of what the Iditarod will be like."
Scdoris has congenital achromatopsia, a hereditary visual impairment that affects her ability to properly perceive depth and fine details, particularly in bright light.
Her vision became a major issue last year when she signed up for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She would have been the first blind musher to compete in the event.
Critics fearing her condition could threaten her safety, that of her dogs and possibly other mushers, became as tough an obstacle for Scdoris to navigate as anything she had ever faced behind a sled.
"People don't always understand there's a difference between being completely blind and legally blind. I can always see my team and my leaders, they just appear kind of flat," she said.
The Iditarod's board of directors eventually made the decision to allow Scdoris to have a "visual interpreter" a musher traveling ahead of her on a separate dog sled with a two-way radio that could warn her about trail dangers ahead.
Still, Scdoris ended up withdrawing from last year's Iditarod prior to the start after unforeseen problems arose in financing two dog teams. Scdoris had planned to use a visual interpreter on a snowmachine.
But, Scdoris said it hasn't stifled her determination to make it to Nome in the Last Great Race in 2005.
"This year I'm committed," she said.
Scdoris already has met her Iditarod qualifications by competing in two approved races with an accumulated total of 500 miles. She still intends to run the T-200 this January, despite the race's billing as "the toughest Iditarod qualifier in the state."
"I wanted to do one Alaskan race before Iditarod, and I talked to Dean Osmar and he said it was the race to do," Scdoris said in a telephone interview Friday.
Scdoris raced with Osmar, the 1984 Iditarod champion and one of the primary people responsible for the T-200's inception, at the Atta Boy 300 Sled Dog Race in Oregon in 2002.
"She's very determined," Osmar said. "I saw her every day in the Atta Boy and it was a technical race. It had lots of switchbacks and ups and downs, and a lot of places to screw up, and she seemed pretty capable to me."
He added, "I think she has a good attitude and lot of athleticism, which makes up for her vision."
As to any prognostications for how Scdoris might do in the T-200, Osmar said it will all depend on the snow conditions for the race.
"If there's a lot of snow I think she'll do good, but if it's icy she'll have trouble like everyone else," he said.
As with the Last Great Race rules, Scdoris will be granted a visual interpreter, a decision that was reached by the unanimous vote of the T-200 board and officers.
"Since we're an Iditarod qualifier, we thought we should extend her the same accommodations. I think it will be a good thing and we're happy to have her on board," T-200 president Kimberly King said.
Tyrell Seavey, son of the 2004 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey, has confirmed that he will be the visual interpreter for Scdoris, but could not provide any further details, since they are still being worked out.
Scdoris was excited to learn about the T-200's tradition of taking disabled and special-needs children for sled rides during the ceremonial start of the race and said she is looking forward to working with the kids.
"It's always good when someone gets involved with sled dogs, but when it's special-needs kids, that's even better," she said.
This year's T-200 again will be limited to 40 mushers. King said race packets already have been mailed to mushers and forms on the Web site have been updated for the race's official sign-up, which begins Nov. 19.
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