Dogsled Racer Blazes Trail for Visually Impaired Readers and Cyclists

Rachael Scdoris, a 28-year-old outdoors enthusiast, has been a competitive dogsled racer for well over a decade. Thanks to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), a division of the Library of Congress, she’s been an avid reader for the past year.

Scdoris was born and raised in the wilderness of Bend, Ore., where she traversed mountains and deserts on the back of a sled with her father, who spent 36 years as a musher—a trail his stubborn daughter was determined to follow no matter what. Scdoris was born with a rare vision disorder called congenital achromatopsia, robbing her of colors, distinct shapes and many layers of depth. But her flat, fuzzy world was more of a challenge for others and their misconceptions than for her.

To the legally blind musher, a disability is a mere state of mind. “What it really boils down to is people saying ‘Well, if I were visually impaired, I couldn’t do it, so clearly you can’t.’”

The 2003 decision to allow the teenage Scdoris to enter the Super Bowl of dogsled racing, the Iditarod, was “a major controversy.” She competed in the Iditarod three times after that—through blizzards and frost bite—before the word “gimmick” was finally laid to rest. Now, as a fully established racer, Scdoris is waiting on major sponsorships before undertaking the Alaskan legend again.

In the meantime, Scdoris juggles a variety of balls—including training for her newest competitive interest, tandem cycling, giving commercial sled-dog tours and caring for more than one hundred huskies. That’s a kennel the size of a football field.

In 2012, Scdoris was also a guest speaker at the national conference of libraries that partner with NLS to provide extensive reading materials in audio and braille to people with visual or physical disabilities. She first started receiving books through NLS programs as a child but didn’t use the service again until last year.

“They told me about all this cool technology they’re using to make it easier for their patrons, and I really wanted to take advantage of that again,” said Scdoris, who favors authors like Paulo Coelho and Christopher Moore. “What takes most people 20 minutes to read would take me an hour or more. To have the book on audio and be able to listen to it faster than most people could read it—that was a nice thing.”

But, even when the self-proclaimed bleeding-heart liberal is enjoying political reads, her furry teammates aren’t far from her mind, “They’re amazing. The definition of teamwork is many individuals working toward a common goal. They’re all individuals but they become such a unit when it’s important. I’m kind of the leader, caretaker of that. I’ve been doing this my entire life, and I’ve tried to explain it my entire life, and I really can’t. It’s a feeling unlike any other.”

If you or a loved one are blind, have low vision or can’t hold a book due to a disability or illness, the NLS talking-book program will help you keep reading for free. To learn more, visit www.loc.gov/nls or call 1-888-NLS-READ.

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