Posted: Thursday March 3, 2005 6:36PM; Updated: Thursday March 3, 2005 6:36PM
ANCHORAGE, March 3 (Reuters) -- A legally blind athlete with a history of high-profile sports feats will face what she considers her biggest challenge when she starts the 1,100- mile (1,760-km) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday.
Rachel Scdoris, 20, from Bend, Oregon, will be among the 79 mushers lining up in downtown Anchorage for the ceremonial start to the world's most famous sled dog race.
Scdoris, who has been racing on foot and by dog sled for several years, said she had no designs on the $72,066 cash prize and new truck that will go to the Iditarod winner.
"Maybe toward the end, our competitive sides will get the best of us and we'll try to overtake a few teams," Scdoris told an audience at an Anchorage book-signing event earlier this week. "But we're just looking at this as a camping trip."
Scdoris has very limited sight because of a vision disorder she has had since birth. She entered the race after convincing Iditarod officials last year to let her run the route with a visual interpreter.
Her assistant, Paul Ellering of Minnesota, will be driving a separate sled-dog team. The two will communicate by radio about hazards on the route, which winds through the Alaska wilderness between Anchorage and the Bering Sea town of Nome.
"A lot of times, Rachel will just have to hear me scream and know it's bad ahead," Ellering, a former pro wrestler who ran the Iditarod five years ago, told the bookstore audience.
Likely to be well in front of Scdoris and Ellering are several past champions who will compete for this year's title. They include Martin Buser, Jeff King, Doug Swingley, Rick Swenson and Norwegian Robert Sorlie. Last year's winner, Mitch Seavey, is also in contention; two of his sons are scheduled to run their dog teams in this year's race.
Some other possible contenders are Dee Dee Jonrowe, in recent years the top woman in the race, Ramy Brooks, Ramey Smith and John Baker. Each has had repeated top-10 finishes.
This year's race, like others in many recent years, will be run on a course slightly altered because unseasonably warm weather erased some of the snow.
The ceremonial start in Anchorage has been shortened by about half from its normal 20 miles (32 km), and timed competition will start in the small community of Willow.