AR-News: Write to supporters of blind musher's Iditarod quest
Glickman37 at aol.com
Glickman37 at aol.com
Tue Jul 15 19:42:01 EDT 2003
Please educate blind musher's supporters about the cruelties of the Iditarod
and ask them not to support her racing in the Iditarod:
Women's Sports Foundation: wosport at aol.com
Grrlstories.org (funded by Blue Earth): info at blueearth.org
Scdoris' publicist (Sports Unlimited): dave.weiss at sportsu.com
>From the Anchorage Daily News
Anchorage Daily News, July 15, 2003
Blind musher hopes Iditarod will see way clear to letting her race
18-year-old who needs snowmachiners' help wants assistance ban waived
By ZAZ HOLLANDER
WASILLA -- A legally blind 18-year-old musher from Oregon is pushing ahead
with her dream to run the 2004 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, even though race
officials last month ruled out her bid to use help.
Rachael Scdoris has mailed in her $1,850 entry fee, joining 75 mushers --
including about 25 other rookies -- who signed up for the Iditarod on the first
day the race committee accepted entries.
Since expressing disappointment when race officials rejected her request to
run the race with assistance in early June, Scdoris has said little. Recent
calls to her were referred to her agent, Paul Herschell, who said the young
musher and her family would have no further comment at present.
But her continuing quest to run the Iditarod has stimulated a debate that may
reach beyond the mushing community: Is a disabled athlete entitled to help in
running "the last great race," a 1,100-mile wilderness odyssey that tests the
solo survival skills of mushers as much as it does the speed of their teams?
Detractors, who include many Iditarod veterans, say the teen's plan to be
aided by two guides on snowmachines not only violates the race's spirit but could
risk her safety and the health of her team.
But Scdoris' supporters say she will prove her mettle by qualifying for the
Iditarod, provided she can use the guides' help in qualifying races. Then
Iditarod officials will have to bend their rules and allow her to race, they say.
"They're going to have to do it sooner than later because she's going to run
the race. She will qualify," said Dan MacEachen, a seven-time Iditarod veteran
from Colorado who has helped Scdoris race before and is tentatively signed up
as one of her Iditarod assistants.
Scdoris has congenital achromatopsia, a rare hereditary disorder that impairs
her central vision, especially in bright outdoor light.
She asked the Iditarod Trail Committee for permission to race with assistants
who could "act as her eyes" during the race by radioing warnings about
dangers like overflow, tight turns or low branches. On some treacherous stretches,
the guides might have to travel close to her; on others, they might scout trail
In a May 17 letter to the board, Scdoris assured members she is serious and
skilled. A racer since she was 11, she claims nearly 8,000 miles behind a team
between training, races and giving sled dog tours at her father's business at
Mount Bachelor in central Oregon.
Scdoris wrote that she can see her entire 16-dog team, though the leaders
look blurry. She can't see the team's necklines or the gangline that connects
them to the sled very well, "but I can handle tangles 95 percent of the time."
She said she expects to need help mainly in extremely dangerous trail
sections, such as the Happy River Steps, Dalzell Gorge and coming in and out of Rohn.
Otherwise, the assistants will let Scdoris handle the rigors of the trail
herself, according to a race plan she submitted to the board in May.
"I've had dogs neckline themselves around trees, tired dogs lay down, leaders
stopping for potty breaks, and even leaders stopping to breed," Scdoris
wrote. "I dealt with all these challenges the way any other musher deals with them:
one challenge at a time."
Scdoris also is a runner who trains six to 14 miles a day and hopes to
compete in the 2004 Paralympics. She admires visually impaired marathoner Marla
Runyan "more than anyone on the planet," she told Grrlstories.org, a Web site for
adolescent girls. Runyon has used a cyclist as her guide.
For Iditarod Board director Rick Koch, Scdoris brings to mind disabled golfer
Casey Martin, who won a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing him to use a
golf cart in professional golf tournaments because he can't walk an 18-hole
Koch proposed a policy that Iditarod officials could use to consider entries
from disabled mushers.
It would set three standards: Does the accommodation fundamentally alter the
nature of the competition? Does it give the disabled musher an advantage? And
is the musher able to provide the same level of dog care and safety as other
On June 6, a majority of the Iditarod board indefinitely tabled Koch's
proposal. At the same meeting, the board rejected Scdoris' request to be allowed
assistance from guides on snowmachines.
Some board members said the presence of snowmachines might encourage her team
to run faster or impede other mushers.
"Trying to pass a dog team plus two snowmachiners under certain conditions
might be hard or impossible," board member and veteran musher Dan Seavey of
Seward said by phone recently.
Seavey said he supports Scdoris' wish to run the race but only if she can
compete unassisted, in keeping with race rules that ban any outside help.
Koch said the safety of the teen's dogs should be the crucial factor in
deciding if she races. Other mushers wonder if Scdoris or her assistants could
react immediately if one of her dogs stepped over its neckline coming out of a
rest stop at 3 a.m. Could she detect the gait changes that signal potentially
fatal muscle degeneration?
Koch said he wished the board could have discussed dog safety with Scdoris
before her bid was quashed.
"To me, that is the crux of the issue," he said.
The board's decision brought a sharp rebuke from the Women's Sports
Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that champions equal access for female athletes.
"Too often 'tradition' is used as a euphemism for 'exclusion,' " foundation
president Dawn Riley said in a written statement about Scdoris' Iditarod
Race officials received Scdoris' entry along with all the rest. But nothing
has changed since the board's decision in June not to allow her to race with
assistance. Koch said no meeting to discuss the issue is planned.
Scdoris' next goal -- completing qualifying races for the Iditarod -- raises
Like all the other mushers hoping to line up at the ceremonial start in
Anchorage on March 6, Scdoris must have completed two races that total at least 500
miles since July 2001, or one 800-mile race in the past five seasons plus a
300-mile race either this or last season.
So far, using similar assistance to what she proposes for the Iditarod,
Scdoris has completed the Atta Boy 300, a race organized by her father in her
hometown of Bend, Ore., and the International Pedigree Stage Stop, a 12-day,
440-miler in Wyoming. At 16, she became the youngest musher to compete in the Stage
Stop, finishing 19th out of 22 teams in 2001.
But both are stage races, in which mushers run dogs from point to point, then
sleep indoors. Because of that, neither counts as an Iditarod qualifier, said
Stan Hooley, the Iditarod's executive director.
"We really want those qualifying races to be as Iditarod-like as possible so
that they're best prepared and equipped to run this race," Hooley said.
Even if Scdoris gets permission from organizers of qualifying races to run
with help from the snowmachiners, Iditarod officials might not accept those
miles. "To be considered as a qualifier for the Iditarod ... there couldn't be any
outside assistance," Hooley said.
Scdoris' father, Jerry, referred recent questions about her racing plans to
Herschell, her agent, with the Portland, Ore., firm Sports Unlimited.
Herschell said he didn't want to "get into specifics" about the future,
including the qualifying races his client is considering.
"It's a very fluid situation right now," he said. "At this point we are still
looking for the last word from the Iditarod. ... Things are changing very
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