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Published: Monday, 5/6/2013

Blind sled-dog racer tells McCord students how she overcame obstacles

BY NATALIE TRUSSO CAFARELLO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rachael Scdoris, a legally blind professional sled dog racer from Bend, Ore., speaks to 6th grade students at McCord Junior High. Rachael Scdoris, a legally blind professional sled dog racer from Bend, Ore., speaks to 6th grade students at McCord Junior High.
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She may be legally blind, but Rachael Scdoris told the McCord Junior High sixth-grade class this week that her lack of eyesight did not get in the way of her vision to conquer the grueling Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Students listened intently as Ms. Scdoris, 28,  told her story about how she didn’t fit in with her sixth-grade class, and turned to her family’s 100-plus dogs for comfort. From Bend, Oregon, her parents were sled racers. When she told them she wanted to begin racing, they were extremely concerned about the decision.

Rachael Scdoris explains her story about obstacles. Rachael Scdoris explains her story about obstacles.
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“They had concerns like how are you going to see a tree that will knock you out,” Ms. Scdoris said. “I had blind denial.”

She recounted to the children in the school’s gymnasium that each time an obstacle came in her way she found a way to overcome it. She even started running, which was a dreaded exercise. In order to compete in sled racing she had to have the ability to run after the dogs in case of a crash where the racing dogs keep running. To her surprise she enjoyed long-distance running. As part of the school's track team, she also began to make friends with classmates on the team.

She said that racing at a young age -- she began when she was 11 -- people accepted her blindness, but almost as if she were a novelty.

At 16, when local races deemed her visible impairment a high liability, she was locked out of many races. So she turned to races outside of the area. And she added an extra person to her team. A person riding a snowmobile would stay ahead of her to notify her if there was a sharp turn, or ice, or any object that would increase her chances of crashing.

Frostbite, crashes, 57-degrees below zero weather, and intense training did not deter her, nor did the comments from spectators like “see the blind girl got frostbite, she shouldn’t compete.”

McCord 6th grade students seem facinated by Rachael Scdoris. McCord 6th grade students seem facinated by Rachael Scdoris.
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And then she set her eyes on the 1,200-mile Iditarod race that runs throughout Alaska.

“When you have to prove yourself to people, you have to go above and beyond,” she told the students. To qualify for the race, she completed 750 miles of pre-races instead of the minimum 500.

In order to abide by the rules, she had to replace the guide on the snowmobile with a partner that ran his dog team alongside hers. She has participated in four Iditarods and completed two of those.

The children were entertained by her speech. More importantly they took away the message to overcome, to treat each other with respect, and accept each others' differences.

From 2005, Rachael Scdoris , with the cap and No. 10 jersey, is with her father Jerry and another girl heading down a street in Anchorage, Alaska, in her sled for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. From 2005, Rachael Scdoris , with the cap and No. 10 jersey, is with her father Jerry and another girl heading down a street in Anchorage, Alaska, in her sled for the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
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“She was really interesting. And her stories were fun,” said Breanna Fangman, 12, noting that she was inspired by Ms.Scdoris accomplishing so much at a young age.

“She didn’t quit,” Breanna said.

Mary Cook, an intervention teacher at the school, has used the Iditarod as a learning unit with the junior high students.

“It’s an awesome unit to start and the kids love learning about it,” Mrs. Cook said.

During the question-and-answer session children asked the guest questions such as if a dog has died on one of her races. Fortunately that has not happened, she said. But she did end up hitting trees.

Ms. Scdoris also shared another life detail with them. Because of the wear-and-tear her body has sustained from training and sled racing, she no longer runs as a way to stay fit.

“I am a tandem bicyclist,” she said. “I keep training, keep going. I absolutely never let anyone tell me I can’t do something.”

She said she plans to compete in the Iditarod again.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356 or ntrusso@theblade.com.



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