Iditarod turns down bid from blind teen

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A legally blind Oregon teenager's bid to run the 2004 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was squelched Friday when board members failed to approve special accommodations for disabled competitors.

The ITC board postponed indefinitely a decision on a proposal to accommodate disabled mushers on an individual basis ruled out any special consideration for 18-year-old Rachael Scdoris, of Redmond, Ore.

"Obviously I am disappointed," Scdoris said in a telephone interview following the meeting. "At first I was very, very upset, but I'm OK now. This is just another step. I know I will eventually get to run the race."

ITC board members never discussed a detailed plan submitted on behalf of Scdoris, which would have allowed 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.

Instead the board postponed a decision on proposed rule 63, written by board president Rick Koch, to accommodate any disabled competitor.

Scdoris has congenital achromatopsia, a retinal condition that impairs her central visual acuity. But she has excellent peripheral vision and some depth perception, she said in a written report on her vision.

Racing into the sun, for example, her blue eyes can usually make out all of her dogs, but cannot detect problems with tangled harnesses.

"She can sign up under the same rules as the rest of us," said five-time Iditarod champion Rick Swenson, who opposed special accommodations.

"If you start making accommodations for individuals, where are you going to draw the line?" Swenson said. "If I lost my glasses on the trail, I'm in the same position as her. My eyes are worse than hers."

Scdoris, who participated in the board meeting by telephone, disagreed.

"His eyes are not worse than mine," she said. "I can do everything anyone else can on the trail. I just can't see as well."

Iditarod veteran Dan Seavey, another board member who opposed the proposal, said he was concerned about Scdoris' safety.

"I've had my own kids go in rivers up to their armpits," Seavey said. "I've had run-ins with moose. I have these pictures in my mind. I just look at her as a young person who can get herself in a whole lot of trouble."

Scdoris isn't giving up.

She said once she completes qualifying races, the board will have less of an argument with her bid. She said she plans to compete next winter in the Attaboy 300 in Oregon, the 300-mile Wyoming Stage Stop race in Michigan and the Yellowknife Dog Derby in the Northwest Territories.

"I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. This fight is definitely is not over. I will build up my team and do some serious racing next year," she said. "Now I just really want to run, so I can prove all those people wrong."

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