When four-time Iditarod champ Doug Swingley quit last year’s race after frozen corneas left him unable to see, no one questioned his grit. Who would mush some 1,200 frozen miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, blind? Actually, Rachael Scdoris would. The 20-year-old from Bend, Oregon, will be at the starting line on March 5, despite having congenital achromatopsia, a disorder that keeps her from seeing past the hazy butts of her lead dogs.
Rachael ScdorisDown, boy! Scdoris at her family home, outside Bend, Oregon.
Sound risky? It is. To complete the course, she’ll depend on a musher riding ahead and radioing back warnings of low branches, obstinate moose, and open water. Her trusted spotter: Iditarod vet and kennel owner “Precious” Paul Ellering, 51, former manager of pro wrestling’s Legion of Doom tag team.
When Scdoris announced her Iditarod hopes in 2003, some veterans complained she would endanger dogs and other racers. But Scdoris, who began mushing at age 11, has proven she has the skills to compete, finishing major qualifiers, including a sixth place in the 400-mile John Beargrease Marathon Race, last March. Along the way, she’s been dragged down an asphalt road, up a railroad track, and in the completely wrong direction. Now she claims she’s got her best dog team yet but concedes that’s no guarantee she won’t have problems. “I’m scared of the same things that scare everyone,” she says. “But I’ve been in World Cup races for the past five years, and I’ve never finished last.”