Free Rachael Scdoris.
Junk this foolishness binding her to a guide to help run the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Give her an exemption to use a GPS if she says she needs navigational help, but allow her to be the musher she always wanted to be.
As her book, "No End in Sight," makes clear, she didn't start out asking for special favors. Race officials way back when imposed them upon her. Here's how she says it started before a race when she was a teenager:
"The organizer of the race telephoned Dad: 'I can't accept your daughter's entry.'
" 'Why not?'
" 'This is the 12-dog, mid-distance class. Jerry, your daughter is blind. Are you crazy? She can't handle it.' "
"Dad responded, 'You know me. If I didn't think she had the experience, the strength and the ability to deal with any situation she might encounter, I would never had paid her entry fee.'
" 'It's not going to happen. I can't allow it.'
" 'You have to let her run.'
" 'Oh no, we don't. If she's out on the trail, she's going to be a distraction; she's going to get in people's way; and she's going to be a liability ...'
" 'Is your problem the fact she is a girl or that she is only 15, or because she is visually impaired?' Dad wanted to know.
" 'I don't have to answer that. All I have to say is we are not accepting her entry. Period.'
" 'Legally, you have to allow her to participate. Have you ever heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act?' "
Whether this discussion took place exactly as Rachael, then 15, and co-author Rick Steber quoted it is doubtful. It's a good bet no one was taking notes, but it's likely a discussion along these lines did transpire and the outcome, as outlined in the book, is clear.
The Scdorises were told Rachael, who until then had been racing without a guide or "visual interpreter,'' could race only if she paired up with her father.
"Their ultimatum was crazy," she and Steber write. "How was I supposed to be competitive when the two of us, along with the sled, weighed in excess of 350 pounds. It was unfair to me and unfair to the dogs. ... The extra weight of and the double-friction of two sleds cost me time, but I came out of the first day, after running 32 miles, in second place."
By the next race, Rachael and Jerry had an idea how to overcome the weight handicap.
"Dad negotiated a compromise," the book says. "He would ride a snowmachine and be my visual interpreter."
Rachael has been saddled with a "visual interpreter'' ever since, though she really doesn't need one. Bad though her eyesight is, she gets along on the trail just fine. She can see well enough to care for her dogs. She has difficulties in bright light, but the Iditarod is a race that is more in the dark than in the brightness anyway. And Rachel sees best in the dark.
"In a clinical setting with controlled lighting, my vision is about 20-200," she says in the book. That qualifies her as "legally blind," but she is far from actually blind. And she has done an incredible job of adapting to her vision.
If you saw her out on the trail and did not know who she was, you would have to look very closely to notice anything that would separate her from other mushers. She must get her face down within inches of a dog's paw to inspect for cuts and scrapes, but the color blindness that is part of her acromatophsia is probably as much a handicap as her poor eyesight.
"I do not see colors, especially green and red," she writes. "They tend to blend and become the same indistinct color."
As one of many males who suffer from red-green color blindness, I can empathize. I have a hard time finding cuts or abrasions on dogs' feet, especially those with brownish fur. Fur and blood look about the same color.
So would I be expected to take a guide along on the Iditarod?
Rachael Scdoris is the only musher in the history of the race to have been saddled with this costly burden, which basically requires that if she is going to run she must come up with a way to finance two teams. Yes, she got herself into this predicament by first asking to have the rules changed to allow for a snowmachine guide, a far cheaper alternative. But the history of her relationships with race officials is what set that all in motion.
Good intentions, meanwhile, propelled the Iditarod. Iditarod officials thought she was blind and needed help. Early on, I thought she was blind. I thought she was putting dogs in jeopardy. I thought she might be putting her own life in danger. I offered to take her father on a snowmobile tour of the Happy River gorge to show him what exactly he was tossing his blind daughter into. He brushed me off. Only later did I learn that he knew a lot more about Rachael's vision than I did.
"No End in Sight" is a revealing book in that regard. Here are a couple of quotes from it:
"When I glanced at my hands, I noticed they were trembling.''
"I entered the four-dog class and got out of the starting gate fine, but soon noticed one of my wheel dogs, 'Powder,' was not pulling."
"As I saw it, I had two choices and neither was particularly appealing: either hike up the road and face Dad and his 'I told you so,' or run 26 miles to school. I thought to myself, 'That's a long way, but on the bright side, it's only 26 miles, and that's a few hundred yards less than a marathon ... I arrived at the school as the bell rang for last period. My friends crowded around and wanted to know, 'Where have you been?'
" 'Missed the bus,' I told them.
" 'How did you get to school?'
" 'From your mom's place?
" 'No, from Dad's?
" 'How far is that?'
" 'Twenty-six miles. Something like that.'
" 'Twenty-six miles. You ran 26 miles? Wow!' "
Rachael Scdoris is one tough and determined cookie. And it's clear from her book that though she has poor vision, she is not blind.
If she can run 26 miles to school in America, where crisscrossing roads serve to force tough navigational decisions for the visually impaired, she shouldn't have much trouble running the single-track trail that is the Iditarod Trail for much of the way to Nome.
At most, the Iditarod should saddle her with a "visual interpreter" as far as Skwentna. There are some criss-crossing snowmobile tracks that can sometimes make things confusing between Willow and that checkpoint, but beyond Skwentna, there is pretty much only one trail all the way to Nome. If Rachael is uncomfortable going it alone like all the other mushers, many of whom are equally uncomfortable, grant her a waiver of the rules to allow her to take that aforementioned GPS along for navigational security.
Other than that:
Free Rachael Scodoris.
Who knows, she could become the next woman to win The Last Great Race instead of never having any hope of doing better than finishing second behind a guide.
Outdoors editor Craig Medred is an opinion columnist. Find him online at adn.com/contact/cmedred or call 257-4588.