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Blind dogsledder races toward victory

Rachael Scdoris, 19, was born nearly blind but has earned a slot in the Super Bowl of dogsled racing.  NBC's Bob Dotson reports.
/ Source: TODAY

The biggest races in life often begin far from the starting line. 

That's why Jerry Scdoris is driving 2,500 miles to the top of the globe from Bend, Ore., in the dead of winter — to help a daughter chase a dream she cannot see.

Rachael Scdoris, 19, was born nearly blind, but has earned a slot in the Super Bowl of sled dog racing — also known as mushing. She will compete against sighted men on the Iditarod, a daunting trail down mountains and ice flows, where temperatures can drop to 40 below. The 1,100 mile race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, winds through a wilderness so vast it could stretch from Florida to Maine.

“I function the same way as a sighted person would. I just walk into a lot more stuff," said Scdoris.

But not out on the trail. Two-way radios alert Scdoris to obstacles in her path, and she is the first Iditarod musher to be allowed a visual aide.

The whole operation is costly. Scdoris and her dad must pack for two teams instead of one, as her spotter must also be a participant in the race.

"We do sled dog tours for a living. And we stay broke racing," said Jerry Scdoris.

Scdoris grew up listening to her dad's sled dogs sing lullabies.

"He used to take me on runs when I was a baby to put me down for a nap,” said Scdoris. At some point she started dreaming of driving her own team. She even camped outside for an entire year to get to know each of her dogs better.

"This boy's always been a challenge to keep weight on,” she said pointing to one of the race dogs. “Hopefully I can get him to gain a few pounds before the race."  

She will need to; the dogs burn at least 10,000 calories a day, and Scdoris and her father have to pack three tons of dog food to stash along the Iditarod route.

"There's only one way to do this, one bag at a time," said Jerry as he filled the bags with feed.

Race rules insist that Scdoris be able to do everything else herself — including changing the dog’s protective booties, 64 of them every day.

"It's basically who can take care — the best care — of their dogs the fastest," said Scdoris.

At first, some of the other mushers worried about the safety of Scdoris' dogs over the 1,100 hundred miles, so the race committee turned her down.

Scdoris didn't complain. She set out to qualify, mushing nearly 800 miles over mountain passes with hairpin turns, competing in two of the toughest races around and finishing sixth in a field of 28.

"The guys have to give you a little respect if you've beaten them at the race,” she said laughing.

Fellow dog racer Libby Riddles should know. She's run the Iditarod six times and was the first woman to win in 1985.

The Iditarod begins March 6, but Scdoris and her dad are already driving — nonstop to the starting line.

"I think Rachael's victory is the starting line. And then, every inch along the way will be a bonus for her," said Scdoris’ father.

"Just being there will be like, ‘Yes!’ " said Scdoris. 

It’s a big victory for a woman who sees only possibilities.