How badly did Rachael Scdoris want to be a sled dog driver when she was growing up?
So badly, says her biographer, that Scdoris -- the now 20-year-old partially blind Oregonian about to enter her first Iditarod -- used to force herself to run half as far as her dogs would run before she took them out.
That was the bargain her musher-father made with her as a pre-teen, according to Rick Steber, author of "No End in Sight," a new book on Scdoris' dream to race in the Iditarod.
"Her dad said, 'You know, if you want to run dogs seven miles, then you have to be able to run about three miles (yourself) -- because if something happens out there, I want you to be able to get back.' "
And that in a nutshell is how Scdoris' unlikely affinity for both distance running and distance mushing -- despite her visual impairment -- began to grow, Steber said this week in a telephone interview from his home in central Oregon.
When she was 15, Scdoris won a medal in an exhibition race for blind athletes at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Sacramento, Calif. When she was 16, she became the youngest musher ever to complete the 500-mile Wyoming Stage Stop Sled Dog Race over the Rockies. In high school, she ran cross country and became captain of her track team -- but none of it came easily.
"I saw her back when she was running cross country in high school," Steber said. "I've seen her trip on rocks, and I've seen her walk into guy wires, but she's never given up.
"She's been out on cross-country courses and gotten lost and ended up running several extra miles. But she was right there toeing the line the next time a race came up ..."
Scdoris will be toeing the biggest starting line of her young rookie-musher lifetime Saturday when she and her dog team arrive on Fourth Avenue for the start of the 33rd annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome.
Before they do, however, Scdoris, Steber and Iditarod musher Paul Ellering -- who will race in close proximity to Scdoris as her "visual interpreter" -- will all appear Tuesday at Title Wave Books in Spenard to answer questions and sign books.
Also making a public appearance this week will be Gay Salisbury, co- author of "The Cruelest Miles," a well researched account of the extraordinary 1925 emergency serum run from Nenana to Nome -- a feat that later inspired the Iditarod. Since its release two years ago, "The Cruelest Miles" has been reprinted in 14 languages, reissued as a paperback and optioned for production as an upcoming Imax movie.
Salisbury will present a slide show on the serum run at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Title Wave Books and again at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
RUNNING IN ALASKA
On Wednesday, Scdoris had just completed a training loop near Willow and was sounding comfortable running dogs in Alaska. Her experience on the Kenai Peninsula racing in the Tustumena 200 in late January had gone well. With some verbal assistance from companion musher Tyrell Seavey of Seward, she'd finished the race in 26th place out of a field of 30 mushers.
"I loved it -- it was great," Scdoris said in a telephone interview. "Everyone was telling me how tough it was, how dreadful the trails were, and I just went out there and had a great time.
"We did run across a couple lakes with glare ice," she said. "But the dogs did it like they'd been doing it all their lives."
There was open water to cross as well.
"Tyrell yelled back once that there was a creek coming, and I was like, 'What?...' And the next thing you know my foot was in a creek. And I'm like, 'Oh, OK, creek!' But it was just like 2 1/2-feet wide, and it wasn't a big deal.
"Then on the way back (crossing the creek again), I had kind of a tentative 4-year-old in lead and she didn't feel too much like going over it. So I just picked her up and carried her across -- and her sister went across it fine and the team followed."
After the race, Scdoris celebrated her 20th birthday with her father, Jerry Scdoris, at the home of some friends on the Peninsula -- then transported her team to Willow, where she's being hosted by veteran sprint musher John Wood.
Steber says "No End in Sight" isn't just a story about Rachael; it's also about her dad, who helped raise Rachael as a single parent after separating from her mother. His daughter's partial blindness would pose many challenges.
Shortly after her birth, doctors determined that Rachael suffered from congenital achromatopsia, which made her both color-blind and unable to see clearly anything either near nor far. Indoors, her eyesight has been tested at 20/200, which makes her legally blind, since her vision can't be improved with corrective lenses. But outdoors, in direct sunlight, her eyesight deteriorates to 20/600.
"The toughest thing for Jerry to do is letting loose of her hand," says Steber, a longtime family friend. "He has a tendency to watch out over her and protect her, and over the years he's realized that she is an independent woman. She thinks on her own. She acts on her own. And he's had to turn loose of her hand."
Scdoris has developed a far-flung fan base as well, including partially blind U.S. Olympic track athlete Marla Runyan, who met and befriended Rachael during the 2000 Olympic Trials in Sacramento.
Some of her supporters will be tracking her progress next week on a family Web site (www.gorachaelgo. com), which has a scrapbook showing scenes from her life -- and a quote.
"Some call my blindness a disability," Scdoris says. "To me, 'disabled' means 'unable.' I am by no means unable."
Daily News reporter George Bryson can be reached at email@example.com.
RACHAEL SCDORIS will answer questions and sign copies of "No End in Sight," at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Title Wave Books, 1360 W. Northern Lights Blvd. The book, about her dream to race dogs, was written by Rick Steber, who will join her for the signing, along with Iditarod musher Paul Ellering -- who will race in close proximity to Scdoris as her "visual interpreter." GAY SALISBURY, co-author of "The Cruelest Miles," will present a slide show on the 1925 serum run at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Title Wave Books and at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
Rachael Scdoris will answer questions and sign copies of "No End in Sight," at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Title Wave Books, 1360 W. Northern Lights Blvd. The book, about her dream to race dogs, was written by Rick Steber, who will join her for the signing, along with Iditarod musher Paul Ellering -- who will race in close proximity to Scdoris as her "visual interpreter."
Gay Salisbury, co-author of "The Cruelest Miles," will present a slide show on the serum run at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Title Wave Books and again at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.