Board allows blind musher in Iditarod

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A blind musher will be allowed to compete in the 2004 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race after directors approved a compromise plan Friday that will accommodate her disability.

Rachael Scdoris, 18, of Redmond, Ore., will be guided by a musher with another dog team, who will communicate trail conditions to the teenager with a two-way radio.

"I was hoping for a snowmachine, but I'll take what I can get," Scdoris said. "I'm happy with it. This is the way I always wanted to do it anyway."

Scdoris has congenital achromatopsia, a retinal condition that impairs her ability to see clearly.

She had petitioned the board to allow people on snowmobiles in front of and behind her team as guides, using two-way radios, to act as "visual interpreters." Both the snowmobiles and the radios were forbidden under existing race rules.

"It was a fair compromise that will allow Rachael to realize her dream," Rich Koch, board chairman, said after the unanimous vote approving the plan.

The board also voted to waive the entry fee for Scdoris' second team, which will be driven by a family friend, Iditarod veteran Dan MacEachen, 55, of Snowmass, Colo.

Scdoris must qualify this winter under the same conditions in two qualifying events in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which she said she has entered. She also plans to train in Alaska this winter.

While Scdoris has competed in stage stop races, where dog teams travel a specific distance each day, she has never run a continuous format race, said board member Mark Moderow.

"I also believe strongly that an essential element of the Iditarod is the wilderness decision-making ...(where) the consequences of the smallest problem are much greater," Moderow said.

Moderow and other board members questioned Scdoris at length on how she would deal with hazardous trail situations on her own, without leaning on her guides for advice.

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