I had just gotten home from Belgium, where I had been competing against the top women’s tandem cycling teams in the world as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Cycling Team. My dad told me that the publisher of Portland Family Magazine had asked me to write a first person account of my athletic achievements and future goals. I am honored to write for Portland Family—over the years I have been so impressed with the magazine’s mission and the quality of the content. I haven’t written a first person account of my activities for some time, but I know the first question people usually ask is, “Who is Rachael Scdoris?”
Well, I am a four-time Iditarod Sled Dog Race competitor and a two-time finisher. I am also the two-time United States National Tandem Cycling Champion. In 2004, I co-authored my autobiography, “No End in Sight.” Presently I am a member of the U. S. Women’s National Cycling Team. I am an endurance athlete and an advocate for the visually impaired, as well as for children and women. I make my living as the co-owner of Oregon Trail of Dreams, a sled dog tour company at Mt. Bachelor in Bend, Oregon, and as a featured keynote speaker at conventions, schools and churches. My personal goals are absurdly high, I intend to WIN the Iditarod and WIN a Paralympic gold medal in cycling at the 2016 Olympics in Rio di Janero, Brazil. I would like to personally invite every single one of you to come to Mt. Bachelor in Bend this summer and go for a summer sled dog cart ride with us, or come next winter for a winter sled dog ride!
I was born with a rare vision disorder called Congenital Achromatopsia, which causes nearsightedness, farsightedness and color-blindness. As a young girl, I made the decision not to allow my impaired vision to stand in the way of my dreams. Since my earliest childhood recollections, my dream had always been to compete in the acclaimed Iditarod — the 1,000-mile Super Bowl of sled dog racing. After a nationally publicized, high-profile public debate in 2003, the Iditarod Trail Committee made a landmark decision to approve my request for special accommodations that would allow me and my dog team to compete safely in the Iditarod.
I went on to make history in 2005 as the first visually impaired athlete to compete in the Iditarod. After successfully navigating the most treacherous sections of the Iditarod trail, however, my race ended in disappointment that year. My dogs contracted a virus on the trail, and for their well-being, I withdrew from the race after completing 700 of the 1,000 miles.
After that disappointment, I was highly motivated to return in 2006, and that year I accomplished my lifelong dream of becoming the first blind athlete to finish the Iditarod. After 12 days, 10 hours and 42 minutes on the trail, my visual interpreter, Tim Osmar, and I passed beneath the wooden structure known as the Burled Arch, marking the finish line in Nome, Alaska. Tim and I finished in 56th and 57th places, and I finished 7th out of the 20 rookies who started the race. In partnership with my gracious sponsor the Standard Insurance Company of Portland, my 2006 Iditarod campaign raised more than $135,000 in donations, which I presented to the United States Association of Blind Athletes, for programs supporting participation opportunities for other blind and visually impaired athletes. Giving to others is a wonderful thing.
My story of hope, courage and determination attracted tremendous national and international media attention. Thousands of messages of support from inspired people across the world poured into my home in Alfalfa, Oregon. Needless to say, my dad and I were overwhelmed with all the requests for my time. I had to turn down a request from the David Letterman show because they wanted me to appear the same night as the 2006 Iditarod Awards Banquet in Nome! During my career, I have been featured in numerous newspapers and magazines and on national TV and radio shows. I was so honored to be recognized by Peter Jennings as his last “Person of the Week” on ABC World News Tonight, before his untimely death in 2006. My goal has been to always use my notoriety to inspire and motivate others to achieve their goals.
After the 2006 Iditarod, I spent the next three years trying to focus on my sled dog racing career, but was pulled in multiple directions by well-intentioned people and groups wishing to acknowledge my accomplishment. Among my biggest awards during those years was winning Nike’s Casey Martin Award, given annually to recognize the efforts of athletes who, like PGA golfer Martin, have overcome “remarkable challenges” to excel in their sport, and toadvocate on behalf of other athletes facing similar challenges. A $25,000 cash award came with the Casey Martin Award, which I donated to the United States Association of Blind Athletes.
With all the generous awards and attention that have come my way over the years, a few special moments stand out. I was honored by Glamour Magazine as one of their Women of the Year in an amazing ceremony in Carnegie Hall in New York City. Stephen Colbert, one of my favorite people on the earth, presented me with the award. In June 2010, I was honored by the American Federation for the Blind and the family of Helen Keller as a recipient of the Helen Keller Achievement Award, for “extraordinary efforts to improve the quality of life for people with vision loss.” Oh, and I almost forgot, THE MOST fun I have ever had was the night I was the Grand Marshall of the Portland Rose Festival Starlight Parade in 2006.
More recently, as an adult woman athlete, I have continued to build on my reputation as an elite endurance competitor. I was honored to be invited to compete in and represent the United States in the 2011 World Sled Dog Championship race in Norway. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, I have resumed serious training for my summer endurance sport pursuit of tandem cycling. My tandem cycling partner and I narrowly missed winning the 2011 National Cycling Championships by a margin of only 1/100th of a second over a 24-mile course. This performance attracted the attention of USA Cycling who invited me to join their elite Team USA cycling program. I spent time training at the USOC training center in Colorado Sprints and went on to take 1st in the road race and 3rd place in the time trial at the 2012 U.S. National Championships.
I continue to compete on both the sled and the bike, and look forward to a new set of challenges and opportunities to help inspire others to achieve their goals. In July, I will be traveling to Wisconsin for the U.S. Cycling Championship, where I hope to win and qualify for the World Championship to be held in Montreal later this summer. Hopefully, after accomplishing my goal of winning the World Cycling Championship, I will again be able to attract major sponsors, return to the Iditarod trail and break into the elite top 10 there.
Over the years, all of my achievements have come about because of the love and support of my family. My coaches, teachers, friends and extended church families have also always been there for me. It is so critically important to recognize each child as a gifted member of society, just waiting to bloom. Very few will become star athletes; some will become auto mechanics, doctors, teachers, scientists, retail clerks, musicians and waitresses. Everyone has a gift. Everyone needs love and support to become all they can be. I hope everyone reading this will please reach out to a young person in your community and give them a hand in helping them discover their gift and pursuing their dream.