Racing 16 dogs across the treacherous Alaska terrain can defeat even the most experienced of mushers, but Rachael Scdoris has an added challenge: She is legally blind.
The world's foremost sled-dog race, the Iditarod, kicked off in Anchorage, Alaska, on Sunday. Teams of sled dogs and mushers will cover 1,100 miles -- an area equal to the distance between New York City and Miami.
"There are times when I'm out there and I think, 'Man, I wish I could see what's going on out here,' " said Scdoris.
Dreaming of the Race Since Childhood
The 20-year-old Oregon native was born with a rare disorder that severely limits her vision. She compares it to looking through a Vaseline-smeared lens, but says she is used to it.
"This is something I've had all my life, so it's not that big of a deal," said Scdoris.
Scdoris was inspired by her father, Jerry Scdoris, who raises sled dogs, to spend years training for the race.
"It's just very exciting; I've been dreaming about this since I was knee-high to this dog here," said Scdoris, pointing to a sled dog.
Visual Interpreter Helps Guide the Way
To make up for Scdoris' limited vision, Paul Ellering, a former Iditarod racer, rides alongside her with a separate dog team -- serving as what they call her "visual interpreter," telling her where to go and when to duck low-hanging branches.
"There's parts of the trail where I'm sure I'll be screaming, and she'll just have to discern from screams," said Ellering with a laugh.
To get into the Idatorod, Scdoris first had to finish the qualifying races, then had to persuade the race committee to allow her to compete with a guide -- something that had never been done before.
Her father said just getting in the race makes his daughter a winner.
"I believe Rachael's victory is the starting line and every inch along the way is a bonus," he said.
But Scdoris said she is not sure she deserves all the attention she's been getting. She wants to be just another competitor, hoping to cross the finish line.
"As far as the whole eye thing goes, people consider that bravery," she said. "I don't think that it is. It's just not letting what most people consider a barrier be a barrier."